Marinette School District Moves Toward $31 Million ReferendumIssue Date: June 17, 2020
The Marinette School Board meeting on Tuesday, June 16 was the 48th and final one for Wendy Dzurick in her role as District Superintendent. Effective Wednesday, July 1, Dzurick will step down from that position, and current High School Principal Corrie Lambie will take over the top leadership position for the district. The change comes as the board is poised to seek approval of a $30,915,500 bond issue for right sizing the district in a referendum to be decided at the polls in November.
In other business of the meeting plans were announced for a limited summer school program in early August, when outdoor school properties will also be opened for public use, and fall sports programs will begin. Dzurick said she expects "kids will be in our buildings in fall...depending on COVID."
She noted the year had ended without the normal fun and activities, so in some ways it feels like it did not actually end. They have been interviewing staff, students and parents on the closing and lessons at home, so they are better prepared if they ever need to do it again. Dzurick said all districts are looking at students coming back in some capacity in fall.
Tom Maxwell, long-time Farmer's and Merchant's Bank President and chief sponsor of the area's Hi-Q program, received a standing ovation when he accepted the district's monthly "Community Propel Award." presented by Ruth McQuire and Tammy Smith. Dzurick said it was the first time ever that a Propel honoree had been given a standing ovation. She noted Maxwell had been a member of the school board many years ago, when she was first hired by the district.
McGuire said there's no program showing all the wonderful things Maxwell has done for the school district over the years, particularly his work with Hi-Q. That program started with sponsorship by Scott Paper, Kimberly Clark and then Farmers and Merchant's Bank took it over. Eventually, Maxwell refused to give it up, and took on the responsibility by and large by himself. He traveled regularly to the 18 to 20 schools involved. "Every year I thank my lucky stars our students have an opportunity to be part of this Hi-Q Team," she declared.
Maxwell said he comes from a family of educators, and had been a member of the School Board 45 years ago, serving as board president for 19 years. "I consider teaching to be the most important profession," he declared, and added that he feels the approximately $35,000 a year cost to keep Hi-Q going is money well spent. Later in the meeting Dzurick noted Maxwell had been board president the first time she was hired by the district.
In her parting statement as superintendent, Dzurick praised the board's decision to put Lambie at the helm rather than hiring someone from outside, saying he will help maintain the Marinette focus on being "a destination district," and carrying out the right sizing plans.
At the end of the board meeting Dzurick declared it has been a privilege to serve district students and staff, but said she is not leaving just yet. She originally announced plans to retire at the end of the current school year, but then agreed to serve for one year on a Transition Team while filling the position Lambie has held as the district's Quality Assurance Director of Teaching and Learning. The board's decision to move Lambie into the Superintendent's position had been announced in March.
Before the meeting ended Board Member Mary Bodam presented Dzurick with flowers and a gift from the board.
The change in roles comes as the district moves into a new phase of its "right sizing" schools in the district. Board members received copies of wording on a tentative ballot for the proposed $30,915,500 referendum vote in November. The referendum and ballot wording are slated for discussion and possible adoption at the board meeting on Tuesday, July 21.
If voters approve, the referendum will allow the district to issue up to the $30,915,500 in general obligation bonds to pay the cost of a district-wide school facility improvement project consisting of construction of additions and improvements at Merryman Elementary School and Park Elementary School, remodeling and improvements at the Middle School and the High School, and acquisition of related furnishings, fixtures and equipment.
A news release issued after the meeting explains that if electors approve, the district will build additions onto both Park and Merryman elementary schools so that the district may close Menekaunee and Garfield schools in two years, or in September of 2021. Park will become a 4k through grade 1 school and Merryman will become a grade 2 through 4 school. The middle and high school grade configurations will remain as they are. The district has been working on a long-term facilities plan since November of 2017, when the board and administration started a facilities study. That study confirmed that declining enrollment left the district with too many buildings to maintain, and with declining enrollment, state aid also will decline, making the problem worse. Dzurick described the "rightsizing effort" as a way to save operational dollars spent on under-used buildings and reallocate the district's limited funds to educational programming.
Dzurick had met with approximately 40 community members, staff and parents to review the facilities studies last summer, after which the committee considered operating just three schools would be the most cost effective and educationally effective long-term solution. Last October and November a series of sessions called Community Conversations led to the proposed four building option as well as a three building option.
School perceptions, an independent research firm, found that a majority of the community supported the four building option rather than the current six buildings. The four school option would save the district $568,000 a year in operating expenses and provide flexibility and capacity if enrollment increases.
On June 8 the school board held a workshop to discuss all the information, and unanimously asked Dzurick to work on a resolution that will reduce the district from four to two elementary school buildings and ask voters to approve the borrowing necessary to do that. Next step is for the board to approve that resolution in July and begin an information campaign to explain the plan to district residents and voters before the November election.
"We have given this plan a lot of thought and effort,' Dzurick said in the news release. "We listened carefully to the community and staff feedback. We wanted to move forward with a plan that most people could agree with, and we think we have that plan. Community and staff input truly shaped the decision and we are grateful for everyone who took part."
A previous news release had said approval of the $31 million referendum would add approximately $93 a year to the property tax bill on a home valued at $100,000.
In other action at the meeting, the board heard a report from contractor Doreen Dembski on communication goal accomplishments and approved contracting again for her services. On motion by Board Member Brian Ceranski, a $40,000 cap was put on that contract.
Dee Morgan presented an overview of the school district's new website. Joe Deegan explained the district's "scorecard" review, which showed improvement in most areas, but lacked test data from this year, since in-school classes had ended early. Human Resources Specialist Hannah Kuehnl reported briefly on training, benefits, etc. for staff members during the three years since her position was created.
The board heard an overview of the proposed 2020-2021 school year budget from Finance Director Sean Kelly, who predicted that due to impact of coronavirus on the state budget, instead of going up for the coming school, state aid per student will drop. Kelly said he has adjusted the budget to allow for that, and the district's fund balance remains healthy enough to carry them through any foreseeable emergency. The board approved termination of one fund that is no longer needed, and creation of a special fund to save for long-term capital improvements.
Hayden Myers was honored for completing a year-long term as Student Representative to the board. The board was advised that he has been elected Senior Class President for next year. With him at the board meeting was his mother, Stacie, who is an educational associate for the district.
The board approved staff health insurance renewal with a 2.7 percent increase, dental and visual insurance renewal with no increase, and the 2020-2021 staff compensation plan with an approximately 2 percent increase. The current fund balance is healthy, with enough reserves to carry the district through an emergency.
He said they have needed to contact legislators to dispel their belief that closed school buildings equals closed schools.
Facilities Director Tom Tickler introduced three representatives of "Accent," a local firm that was awarded the maintenance contract for the district starting on July 1. Board President John LaCourt thanked Tickler and others for all their work on that project. Tickler said they had not been pleased with some of the work of the current contractor and was pleased that their contract now will be with a local firm with people in this area that they can talk to.
"Thank You for leading us through these difficult times," LaCourt told Dzurick as the meeting drew to a close. He declared Dzurick had been "a level 5 leader" these past four years, and predicted Lambie will be a level 5 leader for the coming years.
Dzurick reminded them she is not leaving the district, but is moving back into her old role, and added, "It has been a privilege to serve the students and staff of the Marinette School District."
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