School tax levy could drop

Due to an increase in equalized value and state aid, the Oregon School District’s 2014-15 tax levy will likely either drop more than one percent or rise by a small fraction. Final numbers will be determined in part by information from the state next month, but primarily by the results of the two Nov. 4 school district referendums.

Oregon School Board members unanimously passed a preliminary 2014-15 budget Monday night with a property tax levy of $22.5 million, down 1.5 percent from last year’s $22.8 million.

District business manager Andy Weiland said the decrease is due in part to a projected 1.5 percent increase in assessed value on properties in the district and a bump in state aid. Those are “two large numbers I don’t know for sure yet,” he said, but are expected in mid-October.


Getting the word out

Let the public relations offensive begin.

With the district’s pair of failed 2012 referendums still clearly visible in the rear-view mirror, district officials and board members are trying to make sure their message gets out to the public before the Nov. 4 vote. Some criticism of the failed referendums included a lack of clear communication from the district on what was being asked for and why, something board members are clearly trying to avoid this time around.

District referendum advisors Joe Donovan of The Donovan Group and Christin Milsna of Findorff Construction Company talked to the board Monday night about ways to inform residents of the importance of passing the two measures.

“It’s very difficult to reach everyone at the same time,” Donovan said. “What is it exactly that we want to communicate with them?”


Inside the numbers: Major renovations, additions in OSD referendums

The last time Oregon School District officials asked voters to support a pair of referendums, in 2012, they were rejected by a significant margin.

The district was asking for around $33 million then. Last week, the school board voted to bring forward two more referendums, with a cost of around $55 million, and the clock is ticking toward decision time for district residents on Nov. 4.

The first asks voters to approve $54.6 million in building renovations and improvements (see below for a partial list), and the second asks for authorization to exceed revenue limits on a recurring basis by $355,864 to pay for the operational expenses of those improvements.


Back to School photos

Students in the Oregon School District kicked off the school year Tuesday. Elementary students and their parents at Netherwood Knoll and Prairie View got used to the new traffic safety plan, which featured new drop-off sites.


5 things to watch in 2014-15

File photo. Sophomore Maddy Knaack talks with OHS art teacher Michael Derrick about her project on the history of photography for a segment on an outdoor TV show that students were producing last year, just one example of the district’s personalized learning push.

After voters shot down two referenda in 2012, Oregon School District officials are back with a new plan for some old buildings, as well as some innovative ways to recreate school space in the future.

With a vote coming up this fall, the result will no doubt have long-lasting effects for the district and its residents.

In the meantime, district officials and board members will look to continue recent trends of bringing more personalized learning and career readiness in skilled trades to students, and improving labor harmony with teachers and staff.

While the recent drop in state aid to schools has seemed to stabilize, a possible political challenge to the state’s recently adopted “Common Core” standards could also be an issue before the school year is up.

Here are five stories and trends we’ll be following this school year:

1. Referendum (or three)


$54.6 million referendum on Nov. ballot

Oregon School District voters will decide in November on a pair of referendums totaling nearly $55 million.

The two questions are both related to capital projects and maintenance on district schools.

A third potential referendum question that was discussed at the previous week’s special meeting related to teacher compensation was pushed back, as the board indicated a desire to instead put that on the April ballot.

That means the district would be asking taxpayers for money in two consecutive elections, which gave pause to some board members and a longtime district teacher who spoke before the vote.

“I really believe that a voter would ask the question ‘why would you have a referendum in November and now you’re asking me to pony up again in April?’” said board member Rae Vogeler, who was the only vote against the two November referendums, though others expressed hesitation during the discussion as well before ultimately voting to approve them.


ACT scores reach new high

Oregon High School’s class of 2014 graduates set a new high for average ACT scores for the school in 17 years of data.

According to figures released last week by the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, 2014 Oregon graduates averaged a composite score of 24.7 out of a possible 36 points on the college entrance exam, up from 23.7 for 2013 graduates, and higher than the previous best of 24.2, set by the classes of 2010 and 2009.

Along with the increase in score, the district’s participation rate increased to 66.6 percent, 7 percent higher than last year’s. It’s the highest participation rate the district has seen in at least seven years, according to data on WISEdash, DPI’s information portal.

Among 19 non-alternative Dane County high schools, Oregon had the third-highest average score, behind only Middleton-Cross Plains at 25.4 and Waunakee at 25.3.


School board takes a step back, decides to wait for Aug. 25 to vote on referendum

Taking a step back during a special meeting where they could have set in motion a set of referenda to be voted on Nov. 4 , the Oregon School Board decided Tuesday to wait on approving the measures.

Citing a need for more information and input, the board will take up the potential referenda again during its regular meeting on Monday, Aug. 25.

Board members are considering three separate referenda. One would allow the district to issue up to $54.6 million in general obligation bonds for building improvements; another would allow the district to exceed its revenue limit $300,000 on a recurring basis to cover operational expenses from the capital improvements; the last would authorize the district budget to exceed the revenue limit by $3.5 million on a recurring basis for educational staff compensation.


Board narrows down projects for potential referendum

Oregon School Board members will decide in the next few weeks whether or not to hold a multi-million dollar capital projects referendum in November that could exceed $50 million.

In the meantime, with a sizeable amount of debt set to come off the district’s books, members have been weighing how much to ask for, and what projects should take priority. Aug. 25 is the last date for the board to approve a resolution to go to a Nov. 4 referendum.

At a referendum “work session” Monday night in preparation for an upcoming special meeting on Aug. 19, board members continued to whittle down a lengthy list of repairs, upgrades and new projects to include in the referendum. In recent weeks and months, the list has been pared to around $51 million of items that school officials have essentially agreed are among the highest priority.

District technology director Jon Tanner said narrowing down a list of projects to be funded by the referendum wasn’t easy, though.


Following the footsteps

Photo by Scott De Laruelle. New Oregon High School assistant principal Josh Iverson takes some time out to chat during a day-long session on personalized learning on Monday.

Assistant high school principals often get a reputation for being the “heavy,” or the school disciplinarian. But new Oregon High School assistant principal Josh Iverson comes to his job with a different perspective – a background in special education teaching that carries on a family tradition.

The Viroqua native credits his passion for teaching special education to his mother, a long-time special education teacher.

“I had a connection and a desire my whole life to help out, working with individuals who I felt were really special and important to me, and not only the kids my mom worked with, but kids who were in my own school; they always had a special place in my heart,” he said. “When I went to college, I kind of knew I wanted to go into education of some sort, and it just kind of made sense.”