Highland News Leader

Board: Half of sales tax money to pay debt, lower property taxes

The Highland School Board codified its intent to use half the money generated by a new sales tax — should the initiative be passed by Madison County voters in the spring — to abate existing debt that is backed by property taxes.

“This is simply a plan on what we would do if the referendum was voted, yes or no,” Superintendent Mike Sutton said. “I’m asking for guidance on what to tell people when they ask where the money is going to go.”

On April 4, Madison County voters will decide on the implementation of a new 1 percent county facilities sales tax for schools.

By law, the money can only be used to build new facilities, buy land, repair existing facilities, technology infrastructure, or purchase durable equipment (non-movable items).

The money can also be used to retire existing debt incurred for such purposes. For instance, the Highland School Board recently passed several million in bonding to do life/health/safety work across the districts. Currently, those bonds are backed by property taxes. However, if the sales tax passed, those property taxes could be abated, and the sales tax money used to pay the debt.

The money cannot be used for salaries, operating costs, text books, buses, furniture, etc.

The tax is only applied to products currently subject to other taxation, namely smaller consumer goods. Products not subject to the tax include automobiles, boats, ATVs, RVs, mobile homes, agriculture machinery and inputs, groceries and medicine.

The money is collected on all sales within the county, then disbursed back to individual school districts based on their student population. It is estimated the tax would mean about $1.6 million per year in new money to the Highland School District.

Sutton said it’s estimated 40 percent of the tax would be paid by people outside Madison County that come here to shop.

“If this is passed, we could use funds from outside of Madison County to improve our facilities,” Sutton said. “Just like when you travel outside of the state, you could be helping their schools.”

Other Business

New employees approved

The board approved the following new employees for the current school year:

▪ David Giger, assistant track team coach at Highland High School;

▪ Danielle Case, scholar bowl coach at Highland High School;

▪ Sarah Bland, scholar bowl coach at Highland High School;

▪ Kathy Elliott, custodian at Highland Primary/Elementary, effective Feb. 1, 2017; and

▪ Stephanie Schwappach, scholar bowl coach at Highland Middle School;

The board also approved Stephanie Smith as the school nurse at Highland High School for the 2017-2018 school year.

More positions to be posted

The board approved the posting of additional positions within the district, including a music teacher position for Highland Elementary School and a school psychologist for the Highland Middle School.

Sutton said he had over five pages full of staffing needs within the district, but seeking to fill those positions is a matter of balancing available dollars against needs of the students.

The board hopes that posting an additional music position will decrease the number of instructors coming to the elementary school to teach music. Years ago, the elementary school had its music teacher retire, and the position was never filled, Sutton said. Since then, several teachers from other schools within the district have taught music at the elementary school.

Adding the new position will be done in hopes that it will free up some time for the new high school choral program instructor. (Current instructor Lori Ruebhausen is retiring at the end of the year.)

According to Sutton, if the music position was not added, it might have meant having to cut music electives at the elementary school all together, which board members said was just not an option.

“We’ve had to cut so many electives for these kids, we do not need to start cutting music,” said Duane Clark, vice president of the board.

The addition of a school psychologist at the middle school will address the “social and emotional needs” of the students, according to Sutton. Currently at the middle school, there is only one social worker, and the school shares a psychologist with the high school. Because of this, Sutton said that he was concerned the social and emotional needs of the children were not being met.

Rene Friedel, the board president, said it was necessary that children have a stable source of psychological care.

“Having a child with a mental illness, I understand how critical it is to have someone constant,” Friedel said. “If our children are not healthy at heart and mind they are not going to learn in the classroom.”

Both positions will be filled for the 2017-2018 school year.

Asbestos removal approved

Asbestos removal at Highland Elementary and Highland High School was also approved by the board.

The board awarded a $56,520 contract to General Waste Inc. to remove asbestos flooring from the west wing of Highland Elementary.

The board also approved a $18,730 bid from Schemel-Tarrillon to remove asbestos flooring from the stairwells, band area and offices at HHS.

Both projects are part of the district’s 10-year life/safety survey.

Schools to get new flooring

The board approved bids for flooring replacement at Highland Elementary, Highland Middle School, Highland High School and Highland Primary.

Desco Coating was the low bidder at $148,596.13 to replace asbestos flooring in the west wing classrooms at Highland Elementary with epoxy, HMS classrooms that flooded last year due to a faulty sprinkler head, and restrooms at HHS and Highland Primary that are scheduled to be remodeled this summer.

Gould Flooring was also awarded a $22,850 contract to replace other flooring in the Highland Elementary west wing and the flooded area at HMS with vinyl composition tile (VCT).

HMS parking lot to be repaved

The board approved a bid to rehab the parking lot at Highland Middle School. Gleeson Asphalt won the contract to repair and resurface the south parking lot at HMS with a low bid of $214,000.

Bid approved surveillance camera at HHS

The board approved a bid for new surveillance cameras at Highland High School for $22,992 from Falcon Technologies.

The project is part of the five-year facility plan, and the new equipment will replace the old technology within the surveillance system, which is dated back to 1998, according Matt Frederickson, the district’s chief educational technology officer. The installation will also add more cameras to the high school.

Before approving the bid, two members of the board, Robert Miller and David Raymond, voiced concerns about only receiving one bid for the services. Raymond said that he would have liked to see another bid to compare prices because the cost of technology is always fluctuating.

However, according to Federicksen, the district has used Falcon Technologies in the past for both cameras and tech supplies. The company was also the only entity in the area that can fulfill the needs for the high school surveillance, Federicksen said.

The bid will include 96 cameras, a POE switch, a recorder and a HDMI extender.

District maintenance staff will be providing the labor needed to install the new system.

Raymond was the lone “no” vote on the purchase.

Resolution regarding the 1 % sales tax

The Highland School Board at its meeting on Feb. 27, passed the following resolution stating its intent as to how the district would spend new funds generated the 1 percent county facilities sales tax should Madison County voters approve the tax through referendum on April 4:

“WHEREAS, the Board of Education of Highland Community School District No. 5 is aware of the potential revenue (estimated to be around $1.6 million per year) from the County Facilities Sales Tax ballot initiative and the impact it will have on school facility improvements and lowering property tax rates if successful; and,

WHEREAS, this Board of Education is mindful to provide property tax relief while improving school facilities; and,

WHEREAS, this Board of Education intends to use the potential revenue if the ballot initiative is successful in the following manner:

▪ As long as the tax is in effect, provide an allocation of not less than 50 % to abatement of capital improvement debt;

▪ Utilize the balance of the proceeds to complete eligible capital improvement projects including, but not limited to the following:

▪ Repair/renovate/address parking lots

▪ HVAC replacement at district buildings

▪ Repairs/renovations to athletic fields (tracks, football field, soccer fields, tennis courts, etc.)

▪ Health Life Safety Projects

▪ Restroom/locker room renovations

▪ Upgrade Fine Arts Facilities

▪ Upgrade technology infrastructure

▪ Improvement of building security

NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED this resolution shall be in full force and effect immediately upon its passage.”