Deerfield is moving ahead with surveying school district residents on a possible November 2020 referendum.
Superintendent Michelle Jensen said that no decision has been made on whether to pursue a new operating referendum this fall, but it would help the School Board to hear input from the community.
The district currently has an operating referendum, which went into effect in 2016 and sunsets June 30, 2020.
On May 11, at the School Board’s Committee of the Whole meeting, Jensen shared information from Bill Foster of School Perceptions, a Slinger research firm Deerfield was going to hire to conduct the survey.
Jensen said that many schools are still going ahead with their referendums in 2020, despite the economic uncertainty caused by COVID-19.
“There’s an element, that people are empathetic to what schools need to be doing to keep carrying out the work that we’re doing,” Jensen said.
Jensen said the district doesn’t want to appear insensitive to economic hardships in the community but could benefit from having input from residents.
“We’re trying to be sensitive to what’s changing out there,” Jensen said.
A Citizen’s Advisory Committee meant to study a possible referendum began meeting in February.
At the School Board’s April 27 meeting, board president Jim Haak put the committee on hiatus due to COVID-19. Jensen said at the time that with all the economic uncertainty, this fall may not be the right time to pursue a referendum.
Board members said on May 11 it wouldn’t hurt to gauge community interest.
“I like the idea of going ahead with the survey and asking those questions,” board treasurer Nathan Brown said. “Those seem like good questions.”
Operating referendums allow school districts to exceed revenue limits and levy additional funds from taxpayers to cover costs.
All Deerfield referendums since 2008 have allowed the district to exceed the revenue limit by $400,000 per year, for the length of the referendum.
That $400,000 referendum amount is one of several budget uncertainties right now, Jensen said.
Business manager Doreen Treuden has been running budget forecasts in the last week, to speculate about the district’s financial picture in 2020-21, both with and without a referendum.
Treuden said the amount of state aid schools receive next year, whether Deerfield holds summer school, and property value fluctuations are all variables that may change between now and fall.
There could be “many, many different scenarios,” Treuden said.
Treuden said that she does anticipate about $450,000 in surplus funding from the 2019-20 school year, because of the buildings being closed due to COVID-19. Savings on utility, transportation, food and spring sports costs are expected.
“As we finish this fiscal year, now being closed basically for 25 percent of our year, I’m anticipating that we’re going to have a budget surplus,” Treuden said.
The School Board also decided in September to build a cushion of funds for its debt payment, Treuden said. By levying slightly more taxes in 2019-20, Treuden said the district was able to put about $225,000 into a rainy day fund.
Overall, Jensen and Treuden said, they’re feeling confident the district could make it through one year with or without an operating referendum.
Jensen added she doesn’t expect to see the tax rate rise much over $11 per $100,000 of property value.
“There would have to be over half a million cut in our aid to get us back to that $11,” Treuden said. “I would be hard-pressed to think that’s going to happen.”
Jensen said Deerfield could see some rising expenses in the fall if schools continue with a virtual or blended school model due to COVID-19.
If the district does decide to hold a referendum in November, the School Board would need to approve the referendum question in August, which means holding a survey soon, Jensen said.
Jensen also said that Deerfield has the opportunity to put a referendum on the ballot in November 2020 and April 2021, but not in November 2021.
The CAC will stay on hiatus, Jensen said. This survey would be used to inform the School Board.