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January 19, 2004

Interest rates lower due to Moody’s high ratings

Moody’s Investor Services evaluated the Hamilton School District’s financial status and judged it to be in strong fiscal health. That evaluation led to a MIG-1 rating — the highest possible for a short-term borrow. School Board members learned at their Jan. 19 meeting that the high quality rating allowed the district to secure a short-term loan for 1.35 percent, saving the district an initial $25,000 over projections based on higher interest rates.

More important, Moody’s also affirmed the districts strong Aa2 rating for long-term debt that will continue to provide significant interest savings over time. Ultimately, school officials hope to save $8.9 million by reducing the interest rate on a $4.23 million debt from 8 percent to 5.25 percent.

Higher financial ratings have a positive impact for taxpayers, according to Brian Hink, the Robert W. Baird financial analyst who handles Hamilton’s account.

“Because the district has strong financial ratings, overall debt payments will definitely be lower,” Hink said. “Higher ratings lead to lower interest rates on bonds.”

The debt is the district’s obligation for unfunded pension liability. School districts and municipalities were assessed the unfunded retirement liability in 1982 when three retirement systems merged. The School Board recently approved paying off the debt to the state with an interim short-term loan that will be refinanced into a 20-year loan. A special annual meeting in February or March may be held to authorize long-term refinancing of the debt that is expected to be at about 5.25 percent, according to Hamilton Business Services Director Bryan Ruud.

By taking out the interim short-term loan, the district avoided 2004 interest charges at the 8 percent rate, saving $337,000 in the first year alone.

In its evaluation, Moody’s cited the “district’s strong financial position, continued tax base growth due to an advantageous location and moderate debt burden.”

“Moody’s believes the district’s financial position will remain strong due to prudent fiscal management and steady, enrollment growth,” the report stated.

Among positive aspects, the financial researcher noted a stable fund balance which allows the district to avoid cash flow borrowing to meet bill payments.

Technology plan making progress

The district’s Instructional Technology Plan is making headway, according to Instructional Technology and Assessment Coordinator Katie Little. Little reported that the district’s 3-year plan that was approved last year has made progress in the the following areas.

  • An automatic virus update for all networked computers was implemented.
  • A recommendation to continue with the current student database program or switch to a new one will be made in the next few months.
  • The Technology Integration Committee is aligning technology standards across all content areas.
  • An Information Management Team is working to use software and other data to support student achievement.
  • Lab usage logs are in place across the district and data will be collected in the second semester.

Lannon Site Plan approved

Lannon Elementary School Principal Richard Ladd updated the School Board on progress toward the school’s new tactics that were identified last year. Ladd reported that the school’s tactics are to:

  • maintain and enhance a positive, nurturing culture so that Lannon students will continue to strive for excellence;
  • improve the building referral process to meet all students’ needs; and
  • enhance the schoolwide writing program, allowing each student to develop necessary skills to communicate effectively in writing.

School staff have focused on school culture by in-servicing staff on the motivational “Fish!” program. The Cardinal Cafe was launched in November for students to allow them to perform a skill or talent at lunch for their schoolmates. Spirit days are planned throughout the year. Staff will launch a “Notice Me!” program to help identified students next fall.

Students are being tracked through the Child Assistance Team (CAT) and a list of practical classroom interventions has been developed. Clarification of the CAT referral process and available resources will be disseminated to all staff.

To have an impact on student writing, all staff members were trained in the “Six Traits Writing Method.” Writing portfolios will be developed and student writing will be showcased in the school newsletter. “Six Traits” concepts will be highlighted on public address announcements.

Teachers’ contract approved

School Board members approved the 2003-05 contract with the United Lakewood Educators – Hamilton group, which represents district teachers and other certified staff members. The contract will provide a 4.5 percent salary and benefit package increase for each year of the contract. It includes insurance concessions for the prescription drug card, co-insurance charges, emergency room co-pay and capping of the insurance option plan amount. The agreement also allowed the district to move ahead with a plan to refinance unfunded liability for the Wisconsin Retirement System.

Course catalogs approved

School Board members approved the 2004-05 course catalogs that were submitted by Templeton Middle School Principal Patricia Polczynski and Hamilton High School Principal David Furrer. The catalogues contained various revisions to clarify, add or delete information that students use to select couses for the coming school year.

Open Enrollment policy modified

The district’s Open Enrollment policy was changed to allow establishing a waiting list for out-of-district students who request being enrolled in the district. The district was advised to make the policy change because state law now allows for waiting lists. Because of growth in the district, the district is not taking any new Open Enrollment applications.

Personnel matters approved

In personnel matters, the School Board:

  • approved retirement requests of Hamilton and Templeton speech-language specialist Kathleen Keller-Weber, Maple Avenue kindergarten teacher Patricia Olberg and Hamilton science teacher John Alexander, all effective at the end of the school year;
  • accepted the resignation of Maple Avenue early childhood-special education teacher Kelly Gosse, effective at the end of the school year; and
  • appointed Janice Bauerle as Maple Avenue assistant cook effective Jan. 12.