Eau Claire school district Administration Building

Eau Claire school district Administration Building, 500 Main St.

EAU CLAIRE — A planned referendum for the Eau Claire school district could be pushed forward by a year.

Later this month, the Eau Claire school board will likely vote on pushing the referendum from April 2021 to April 2022.

Two major factors are driving the push, school officials said at a board meeting Monday: Changes related to the coronavirus pandemic, and uncertainty about K-12 funding in the state’s upcoming 2021-23 biennial budget.

The district doesn’t know if all of its students will return to brick-and-mortar school buildings when the pandemic is over, though “we feel confident right now that those students will come back … once this has ended,” said Abby Johnson, executive director of business services. “It’s difficult for the district to make plans in an unusual school year.”

The district isn’t expecting any big hits to its revenue during the 2020-21 school year, but “we’re hearing 2021-2022 will be different,” Johnson said.

If that’s the case, and the school board still decides to pursue a referendum in April 2021, at that point school officials may not have a good idea of what the 2021-2022 district budget will look like that year. That would make landing on a referendum dollar amount more difficult, Johnson said: “It’s going to be hard for us to estimate our operational needs.”

The district’s Budget Development Committee has also discussed shifting the referendum forward by a year.

“Quite a number of those very important factors are much more unknown than normal because of COVID,” said board member Aaron Harder on Monday evening.

Before the pandemic, school officials planned to hold community forums in April and bring three possible referendum questions to the board in May, Johnson said.

“All that work was put on hold due to the COVID-19 pandemic,” Johnson said Monday.

The next steps in the referendum process — meeting with the community, talking to district employees and meeting with the school buildings that would potentially be impacted by a referendum — would look “very different” now, Johnson said.

The board hadn’t yet set a dollar amount for the referendum, but it could include funds for a renovation at South Middle School and several Roosevelt Elementary School maintenance projects, according to planning documents and board discussions.

Projects at those two schools were eliminated from an $87.9 million referendum that passed in the district in 2016; those two projects could cost $25 to $30 million, former Eau Claire schools superintendent Mary Ann Hardebeck said in November.

Another matter that could draw referendum dollars: Adding onto three south side elementary schools to alleviate what school administrators say is urgent overcrowding.

In other school district news:

  • Two Eau Claire schools have seen positive COVID-19 cases, said Kim Koller, executive director of administration. No close contacts were identified in either of those cases, Koller said Monday, praising the schools’ safety measures. School officials did not release details about those cases Monday night.
  • The school board on Monday approved several staffing changes. Locust Lane Elementary Principal Laura Schlichting will become the district’s new virtual elementary programming administrator, and Memorial High School assistant principal Travis Hedtke will become the virtual secondary programming administrator. Sam Davey Elementary principal Joe Eisenhuth will also serve as half-time Locust Lane Elementary principal.
  • The board voted to reduce the school parking permit rate from $50 for the school year to just a processing fee of $12.50. The reduction is due to “the volume of students driving to school is less than in a normal year,” according to meeting documents. If the district were to move to all-virtual classes sometime during the year, the processing fee wouldn’t be refunded. The move reduces the school district’s parking permit revenue by about $28,000.
  • Two new student representatives gave their first reports to the school board Monday. Those new representatives are Zoe Wolfe of North High School and Emery Thul of Memorial High School. Student representatives serve terms of Sept. 1 through May 31.
  • Six seniors at Memorial and North high schools are semifinalists for National Merit Scholarships, Eau Claire schools Superintendent Michael Johnson said Monday. Those seniors are Rachel Lester, Joshua Mithuen, Emery Thul, Benjamin Young and Dalena Young of Memorial and Morgan Jaenke of North, according to the district.

Contact: 715-833-9206, sarah.seifert@ecpc.com, @sarahaseifert on Twitter

Sarah Seifert is the Leader-Telegram's education and health reporter. She's worked as a journalist in the Chippewa Valley since 2017 and joined the L-T in 2019. Get in touch at sarah.seifert@ecpc.com or on Twitter at @sarahaseifert.