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September 20, 2010

Moody’s upgrade, restructured debt saves taxpayers $458,000

An upgrade in the district’s financial rating will mean that taxpayers will save $56,000 on top of more than $400,000 that had been anticipated through restructuring of $3.7 million in debt.

At a previous meeting, the School Board authorized administrators to refinance remaining debt incurred for facility projects in 2003. Financial advisors estimated in August that the district would be able drop its interest rate that ranged from 3.5 to 4.5 percent to a more favorable 2.25 percent. As part of the restructuring process, Moody’s Investors Service reviewed the district’s financial operations and upgraded its rating from Aa2 to Aa1. The upgraded rating resulted in the district being able to sell general obligations bonds for 1.73 percent – saving more than a half a percent from what had been anticipated.

Total savings from the restructured debt plan and lower interest rate due to the upgraded Moody’s rating is $458,000. In addition, the restructured plan will retire the district’s debt one year early and even out payments over the remaining decade.

Business services assistant superintendent recognized

For the role he played in helping the district achieve such a strong financial rating, School Board members recognized Business Services Assistant Superintendent Bryan Ruud. Superintendent Kathleen Cooke, Ph.D., credited Ruud for helping the district keep costs down , including lowering energy, healthcare, debt and workers’ compensation expenses.

Federal funds available to district

In other financial matters, the School Board learned that the district will receive $1.3 million in federal funding as part of the U.S. Department of Education’s Jobs Fund. Wisconsin’s share of the federal funding is $179 million.

Administrators will present a plan to the School Board recommending how the funds could be used after clarifying with the state officials implications of the funding. Cooke reported that initially school districts were told that the state Department of Public Instruction would administer the funding, but later that was changed to the Department of Revenue. Because the funding will be distributed through the state’s equalization aid formula, the district stands to lose 30 cents of state aid for each federal dollar it receives.

Possible ways to mitigate loss of state aid would be to spread out use of the funds over three years and underspend the budget. The funds must be used for salaries, benefits and support services of school-level employees including teachers, principals, counselors, custodians and nurses. They may not be used for district-level employees or contracted employees.

High school sees strong achievement

After years of concentrating on a goal of higher-level thinking for students, Hamilton High School created a new goal that states “Students will apply 21st century learning to maximize their potential in the global community.” Principal Candis Mongan provided School Board members with an overview of work that has occurred and the promising results that have been attained at the school, including support measures for students and staff development.

Results of the school’s focus are seen in the school’s Advanced Placement (AP) and ACT scores. For the first time ever, Hamilton achieved above a 1.0 rating on the AP Challenge Index. Its score was 1.18 based on 366 AP exams taken by the 309 students in the class of 2010.

Hamilton AP and ACT scores are at all-time highs. AP results from 2006 to 2010 went from 108 to 366 exams taken, nine to 28 sections offered and 79.6 to 89.9 percent passed. In that same time period, ACT achievement shows that the average composite score went from 23.1 to 24.1 and the number of students taking the exam increased from 171 to 229.

School Board members expressed appreciation to Mongan and the high school staff for the outstanding progress that the school is making.

Summer Opportunities reports success

School Board members also complimented Summer Opportunities Director and Lannon Elementary School Principal Dick Ladd for overseeing an excellent summer school program.

Ladd reported that the program increased the number of student participants, improved academic support, incorporated new “Transition to First Grade” curriculum, trained “Soar to Reading Success” teachers in Readers’ Workshop strategies and “Making Sense of Math” teachers in Everyday Math strategies and secured three police officer to help ensure safe traffic flow before and after school.

Ladd recommended that next year’s program run from June 20 to July 15 with a day off for the July 4 holiday. He said the district is contracting an outside consultant to help load test online registration which has presented difficulties in the past two years.

Ladd recognized the office staff members, coordinators and teaching staff who provided services to nearly 2,000 students who participated in the four-week program.

Mitchell honored for quick action

Hamilton guidance counselor Patricia Mitchell was recognized for demonstrating quick action and concern for a fellow employee that may have saved his life. When high school custodian Mike Oswald was choking on a piece of food in the employee lunch room, Mitchell performed the Heimlich maneuver and dislodged the food from his throat. Oswald, who was at the meeting to recognize Mitchell, called her his “angel” for coming to his aid.

Personnel news

In personnel news, the School Board:

  • learned that the district’s unofficial student count for the 2010-11 school year is 4,555, which is a 52-student increase over last year;
  • appointed Jennifer Callan as a part-time Templeton Title I paraprofessional, and Lisa Dardich as a Maple paraprofessional.