Falcon STEAM Final Thoughts
VOTE APRIL 5!
by District Administrator Mike Richie
During the past ten years, the Tomorrow River School District community has supported four referendum questions to improve facilities and education, including the most recent in November 2020 to fund operational needs of the school district.
It is important to understand why school districts need to ask our communities for additional funding. In1993, the Wisconsin legislature passed Act 16, which limited the ability of school districts to tax their communities without the approval of voters. This act also put into place a formula that limits the amount of increases a school district can obtain in funding each year. This formula significantly impacted the Tomorrow River School District. Districts like ours that were conservative with their spending started at a point in the formula that has negatively impacted us for nearly the past 30 years. These limitations placed on our district by the funding mechanism is why we ask our community to consider various referendums. Generally, citizens agree that local control of what happens in our schools is a positive opportunity.
April 5 the district is asking our community to consider two facility referendum questions that will address building needs. Sometimes referred to as a capital referendum, facility referendums are a one-time referendum that asks voters for permission to borrow funds to pay for specific building projects. Much like a home mortgage, a facility referendum is typically financed over an extended period, often up to 20 years. These projects are too costly for our district to do within our annual budget limitations.
These referendum questions are different from the question approved by our community in November 2020, which was an operational referendum. An operational referendum asks permission from communities for the district to exceed the state-imposed revenue cap to generate funds for operating purposes. These questions help fund programs, activities and services. The amounts of these referendums are determined by the needs of the district to operate every year. Funds secured are used within the year they are received.
Operational referendums are more common in recent years because districts have needed to address rising operating costs while at the same time experiencing a reduction in state funding. Of the 83 referendum questions on the ballot this April in Wisconsin, 48 of those questions, (or 58%) are operational questions. These total $213 million shortfall in school operations this year.
Our district is asking these facility referendum questions to improve our school buildings and continue to offer the needed facilities to support the growth of our educational programs and improve the safety and security of our schools.
Focus On STEAM, Safety and Security
Throughout the extensive 22-month study process, the top priority consistently identified and discussed was the need to address the current science and tech ed facilities. There are considerable deficiencies in these facilities. Additionally, we need to consider the emerging push to prepare our students in these areas, both for careers immediately after high school and if furthering their education in college.
The push for advancement in these areas typically is identified by the acronym STEAM. STEAM is short for Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math, a coordination of applied skills and technology meant to prepare students for a rapidly evolving technological world. In our case, the A also signifies Agriculture Science as the Ag spaces would be part of the new STEAM center. The concepts of collaboration and coordination are key to understanding the opportunity for our school to improve. The existing tech ed building being detached from the high school may have been appropriate when it was designed 45 years ago. However, it now acts as a barrier to broader use of these valuable resources by all students and staff. It is also a challenge to create collaboration between these subject areas which have been proven to have a strong connection and relationship with each other. The programs in the tech ed building—including agriscience—are expanding beyond the current available space.
The science facilities for middle school and high school need updates and expansion. The current high school science labs lack the proper equipment and infrastructure to support these evolving curriculum areas. They lack the flexibility to adapt and change as these programs grow. There are also serious safety concerns due to the limited space available in these labs. By creating new, flexible and larger spaces adjacent to programs like tech ed, there will be safer environments that allow for better use and flexibility for all STEAM areas.
Security and safety were also consistently identified as areas the district should consider addressing. Our schools’ most significant security issue is that main offices are not appropriately located in the building. This means there is no direct supervision of people approaching the schools and trying to enter the building. These entry points are not easily identified by a person unfamiliar with the school. As the schools have continued to develop, the offices no longer relate to where students and public enter the building, which also contributes to confusion.
With this referendum, new secure entries will be added. Visitors and students arriving while school is in session will be required to enter the office and check in before proceeding to their destination within the building. Traffic patterns around the school will also be modified to limit the safety concerns during peak student drop-off and pick-up times. This project will also address the creation of more defined elementary, middle and high school zones within the building that can be secured when there is a security or safety threat.
Please vote April 5!