We appreciate those that have attended our open forums and filled out our survey. From these items, we have developed the following frequently-asked-questions list:
Who is getting new schools?
- New Intermediate School on the Southeast side of town.
The old Morgan school is deemed too expensive to renovate into a new intermediate school, plus the current site does not allow for expansion nor does it have the capacity to handle the traffic needed. The new school will house grades 4 – 8 and will have around 660 students.
- Renovated Cunningham School
The old Cunningham School will become a new intermediate school with grades 4 – 8. This allows for a very well constructed old Cunningham to have additions built, resulting in an almost 60% new building, and the ability to accommodate 660 students. Beyond the new intermediate school, Cunningham is by far the second largest project in the referendum. Cunningham was chosen because it had the greatest amount of green space to accommodate the new configuration and allow for athletic fields.
- Six Primary Schools grades PK – 3
The six existing K-3 elementary schools will remain where they are with renovations, adding back in Pre-Kindergarten. The renovations will include, but are not limited to: complete new roofing systems, heating and air conditioning, all building issues, parking lots and parent drop-off/pick-up areas, and expanded buildings to meet the needs of a larger student population for consolidation.
Where will the schools be?
Only one school will be in a different site and that is the new Southeast Intermediate School. We have land options and should have this secured soon. Our hope is that it is on Hwy 81 near the current site of Morgan that we will showcase a new school for the community, attracting those traveling into our city.
Closing of schools… Why?
Like some businesses that have to downsize the number of facilities they have, school districts can no longer do things the same way we have in the past. If we had not reconfigured last year, we would have had to cut an additional $2.3 million this year and $4.4 million next year. This would result in 60 or more staff cuts and large increases in class sizes. In the past few years we have made cuts around $20 million and, because of a decrease in funding, we will continue to have to cut. We have found many creative ways to make the cuts, but we are running out of options.
The referendum will raise the taxes for the average home in Beloit around $5.63 a month, but because of the amount of money we will save by consolidating, energy savings and staff reductions, we think that the $2.3 million per year in savings will offset much of the cost of the referendum.
Many people have commented that we are losing some of the feel of neighborhood schools. We wish that we could afford to operate all 12 elementary schools as we had in the past, but the economic situation is simple: we can’t. SAGE is a federal class size reduction grant we receive, and it requires that we must have one teacher to 18 students or two teachers in a classroom to 30 students. If we fail to do that, we lose the funding. This year we received $3.8 million dollars in funding to the district. This means that if we had not closed the two schools and consolidated, we would have huge class sizes and would have lost the funding, creating an even larger problem. The referendum allows us to build out all the K – 8 schools to be large enough to accommodate the classroom needs and space needed for the students in fewer buildings. It is truly a case of needs vs. the economic ability of the district to function the way we had. To operate all 12 elementary schools we would have to run a referendum to increase operating costs every year that would have a far greater tax impact than the referendum.
Can’t operate the same way as the past
Like businesses, we have had to continue to look at cost savings and reductions. School districts, like many businesses, have a primary operating cost related to employees. Our employees, meaning all employee groups, have not had an increase in wages for the past one, two or more years depending on the group. They all have given up benefit packages related to health care and retirement which has cut into the salaries they were making. We can not go to them for more. We must consolidate the staff and resources for us to continue.
The great news is that as you have seen or read, we are achieving academically better than ever before in Beloit history. One of the reasons we are able to continue to get better is that by consolidation, we have a larger number of grade level teachers at each site meaning for example, six third grade teachers at a school instead of one or two. This helps the teachers work together collaboratively every day in what to teach, how we will teach it, how we will evaluate the students and instruction and what will we do if the students need extra help. Beloit’s Response to Intervention (RtI) video, filmed by the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, models us as the example of how to teach students; this video can be found on our district website (www.beloitschools.net) or at (http://www.ecb.org/rti/collaboration.htm). Along with this, our district has increased enrollment by 100 in the past year which will continue to help us with budget issues in the future. We believe this is due mostly to the fact that we have continued to improve academically and received state and national recognition for it.
Meeting the needs of a select few….
One of the comments we heard this weekend is that the referendum is only addressing some buildings and not all. We appreciate the concern but feel that this is the best plan to address all the buildings in the district.
Two years ago, the district was taking care of 20 sites: 12 elementary schools, 2 middle schools, 1 high school, 1 building for two charter schools, 1 offsite building for special programs, 1 district-owned site for 4 year old kindergarten, the district office and a maintenance facility.
After the referendum, we will have 15 sites: 6 elementary schools, 4 intermediate schools, 1 high school, 2 schools for charter and learning academy students, 1 site for district offices and the maintenance facility.
In the referendum, we will be doing extensive renovations along with the additions to eight of the sites which will address all the roofing, heating and air conditioning needs as well as the needed upgrades to the buildings.
Because the referendum covers the upgrades to the eight buildings, we can take the district maintenance and capital improvement budget and concentrate on the remaining buildings, especially Aldrich, McNeel and Memorial. We already have a five year plan for these three buildings for repairs needed, but now we can look at what improvements are needed to each site and concentrate on a plan to address them. Add to this the 2.3 million that we will save in staff consolidation, energy cost and others, and we should be in great shape to make sure we have the buildings’ needs addressed.
Twenty years ago, the referendum addressed JUST the high school, creating much needed space for incoming students (a pool was not included in that referendum), while the current referendum addresses 8 schools directly, freeing up monies to address the needs at the other buildings, such as McNeel, Aldrich, and Memorial.
What will we do with the retired buildings?
The board and administration will continue to look at the retired buildings for options. We know that a couple of them have the greatest resale value and there is interest from outside to purchase them. We also know that just as businesses have to shut down and leave buildings empty, we may be doing the same until we are able to move them. We can’t afford to continue to operate them within the current budget. We will be very active in marketing them and will do what is needed to keep them up in the meantime.
Seeking public input
The administrative team has been to approximately 45 listening sessions and presentations at many locations. We have presented to clubs and organizations along with the staff of each building so they would be informed as to what was being proposed and have input also. Although the district is still a business that has to balance the educational well being of the students with the ability to finance our operation, we have tried to listen to the public. It is understandable that people want more input and often do not want changes and we wish we could make everyone happy. We are proud of the gains we have made and the direction we are going but know that every decision made has some cost outside of the money part of it. It is the balance of what we would like to do and what we can afford to do that has driven much of the design of the referendum.
You just reconfigured the elementary school system in 2011. Why are you changing things so soon?
We were forced to reconfigure due to state funding cuts. The reconfiguration at the time allowed us to save money, while offering a stronger educational program due to full utilization of grants, more consolidation of programs, and more effective use of staff. We would have preferred moving to the intermediate school model, but had no money at that time, and couldn’t wait for referendum in 2012. Having five transitions for students is not the best educational model for students nor convenient for families. The new proposal eliminates two transitions, so students only switch schools twice in their years with us (Grade 3 to 4, and Grade 8 to 9).
You closed Royce and Wright Elementary Schools to save money, but reopened them. How did that save money?
The bricks and mortar part of closing the school is not what saved money – it was the reorganization of our elementary staff (and some loss of positions through attrition) that helped the district save almost $2 Million. An additional $300,000 was saved by moving the majority of our K4 students out of rented sites into Royce, with the added benefit of greater collaboration between our K4 teaching staff.
Where will Cunningham and Morgan students learn while the new schools are being built?
Since we have at least one more year in our configuration, the students can still remain in their buildings during the new construction.
Why are you aiming for 440 students per primary school?
This is based on research (see research sources below) that gives a range of 300 to 500 students as appropriate for school groupings. Our proposal of 440 would keep our learning communities together at grade levels, and also be large enough to allow us flexibility with our staff in order to save money.
Is putting grades 4 through 8 a wise choice?
In the United States, middle schools (grades 6 through 8) as a whole are not working. As for K-8 schools: the older K-8 schools work better than middle schools, though newer K-8 schools actually are lower-performing schools than our present middle schools. Research points to the success of 4-8 schools (sources listed below), and the benefits such as a longer family relationship with school staff (5 years).
What will the buildings look like?
The architects have not designed the buildings yet, but there will be spaces ensured for music, art, etc. We will also work with them to make building as attractive as possible with the money allotted, knowing the impact such a building would have on the local economy.
Classrooms are too small for team-taught classrooms (30 kids and 2 teachers). Will that be fixed under the new proposal?
Yes, we will add additional classrooms, and make classrooms larger to accommodate these classes.
How will parking work with putting more kids at a school?
Part of the work done at our schools will be to improve access to our schools so that it’s easier and safer for drop-off/pick-up times. As for parking, we need to check into this, including the possibility of buying surrounding properties.
Why not ask for two referendum questions: one for maintenance repairs and one for the schools’ proposal?
The district is recommending the board go with only one question, as it would not make sense to make repairs on any buildings that may be rebuilt.
Why has the maintenance budget not been able to cover these repairs in the past?
As the presentation PDF explains, the amount of total tax levy dollars has not changed much over the last 15 years. However, costs have been steadily rising, making cuts to every budget area necessary.
How do we know you won’t come back in 10 years asking for maintenance money?
Our Facility Services staff have carefully scrutinized each and every building to compile a thorough, accurate list of what our district needs to get our building needs in order. Repairs will be made correctly the first time in order to be long-lasting.
What are you doing at the schools that lack green space?
We are looking at tearing up the asphalt playgrounds and replacing it with grass versus repairing the asphalt. This allows our students the freedom to safely run and play during recess periods.
What will be the impact on transportation?
Having too many schools with the student population in Beloit has led to too many bus routes, at $36,000 per bus route per year. Despite this, we will continue to work closely with the First Student bus company to look at creative solutions to help our families.
Will the state cut referendum aid?
There’s always a possibility, but it is highly unlikely. Any cuts would be focused on per-pupil allocations. In fact, it is likely that Senator Cullen’s bill, which increases state aid on referendum money from 64 cents for each dollar to 90 cents per dollar, will pass due to bipartisan sponsorship and support.
Since it is unknown when Senator Cullen’s bill will go up for a vote, will our referendum be covered if the bill vote is after April?
Yes. The bill would be retroactive to July of 2011, when the bill was first proposed.
What is the plan for the empty buildings?
We would look to the community for guidance, but would likely put buildings up for auction. We also hope to move our district office, as well as charter schools out of rental properties into buildings we own.
Is the pool really in that poor of shape?
Yes, our school is currently disqualified from hosting meets due to major deficiencies (shallow, leaking, temperature, etc.).