SASD contemplates $750,000 operating referendum

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At the Committee of the Whole meeting last week, there was a discussion regarding a possible non-recurring operating referendum, which is an approval by taxpayers for the district to levy an additional amount outside of the revenue limit for a designated purpose. 

According to Superintendent Dr. Amy Van Deuren, the Sparta Area School District has been levying $750,000 per year dating back to 2007. During that time, the district has been consistent with its purpose in providing technology to students as well as funding curriculum and learning materials, after school programming and safety and security. 

With past operating referendums, the district has funded one-to-one devices for students in Pre-K through grade 12.

“We’ve also expanded the technology in other areas too, everything from our HVAC to our business services to nutrition services to all of our record keeping,” Van Deuren said. “Everything relies on that technology. Our reliance on technology has increased significantly.”

Director of Business Services Leah Hauser added that in addition to the one-to-one devices, operating referendums fund all the support services behind using technology district wide such as software and programming.

Starting in 2007, the district’s textbooks and resources, some of which are technology based, were outdated in multiple areas. Not only did the district get more current resources, but it is now on a rotation in order to ensure its resources and textbooks will always remain current.

“If you were to look back to the first referendum in 2007, a lot of these technology curriculum pieces wouldn’t have been there,” Hauser said.  

The district now offers free after school programs for students in grades 1 through 8. Thanks to funds from referendums, programming has been expanded beyond tutoring and homework help where it started. 

“If you go out to any of the schools, you’ll see the kids engaged in a lot of active, hands-on activities,” Van Deuren said. “It’s a very well thought out and implemented program.”

The district continues to expand the days and hours the program is offered, especially for younger students at Southside Early Learning Center, where the program has extended to include Pre-K and kindergarten.

“One of the greatest needs in our community for our young families is childcare,” Van Deuren added. “Right now, WIN is the closest thing we offer to childcare to really help families out before and after school.”

The district has also extended its program to operate the after school or after-hours during summer school to continue to help families. There are over 300 students actively participating and there is a waiting list. 

“As we get employees and build that capacity, we keep adding students,” Van Deuren said. 

In the safety and security department, many items are tied to technology as well. The district has installed security cameras, door access systems to control visitors and upgraded its phone system. 

Van Deuren questioned whether or not the current devices used at Sparta High School are robust enough. Upgrading devices could create more opportunities for students. 

“Given the rise of technology that we didn’t anticipate and the acceleration of our staff’s capacity to use our technology, we’re integrating more of it into the classroom,” she said. “We need to continue to stay current on our textbooks and resources.”

The district administration is thinking less about what it should add, but rather how it sustains programming and stays current. 

“This referendum has been in existence for 14 years. I know we’re in a difficult environment right now, but the question is, should we go to referendum in April?” Van Deuren asked. “And if we go, do we stay with $750,000? Is that enough to meet our changing needs?” 

The current referendum will expire at the end of the 2021-2022 school year. The matter will be brought back to the Committee of the Whole in November for further discussion. 

According to Hauser, the district will need to make its final decision to go to referendum before January in order to make it onto the April ballot. 

“We’re already looking at a pretty tight budget next year. If we didn’t get this referendum, which goes directly to our operations, that would be an additional $750,000 shortfall we would have,” Hauser explained. “Does that mean we cut all technology, or does it mean we’d look somewhere else in the budget to cut?”

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