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While a recommendation from the Community Facility Advisory Committee is still months away, the Columbus School District is moving along with possible plans for a building expansion or renovation project.

During the May 13 school board meeting, the board approved contracts with PMA Financial Network for a financial advisory role and CD Smith for construction manager services. According to the district, there is no fee for the advisors’ work, unless a referendum is approved and renovation work progresses.

The Facilities Study Committee began meeting in April to analyze and form solutions to the district’s facility needs. The committee has met frequently and plan to make a recommendation to the board in late July. For the first time since the committee’s work began, the district mentioned the possibility of pursuing referendum funding, depending on what the committee recommends.

“The role of a financial advisor is really key at this point,” said Director of Business Services Janel DeZarn-Vertz. “It’s the key person that comes in when the committee starts talking about solutions and the construction manager starts to cost-out the solutions; it’s the role of the financial advisor to talk about tax impact and what a borrowing structure would look like.”

According to DeZarn-Vertz, PMA will also advise the district on other borrowing debts, such as its energy-efficiency program, along with credit rating reports. For the past 16 years, the district has used Wisconsin Public Finance. DeZarn-Vertz said the district went through a competitive bid process and received bids from Baird, Wisconsin Public Finance and PMA.

“You really can’t go wrong with any of those three; they all have their special niche in the market,” DeZarn-Vertz said. “The reason we recommend PMA for the financial advisor is that, as a district, we use a forecast software that we invest a lot of time and resources into and PMA has invested a lot of time into that as well.”

Board Member Kelly Crombie said PMA provides financial services for Madison College and believes they will “do an excellent job.” PMA is based out of Naperville, Illinois.

Looking at construction management services, DeZarn-Vertz said CD Smith offers the best research solutions at this point in the facilities study process. CD Smith, based in Fond du Lac, also has offices in Madison and Milwaukee.

“The facility study committee is at a point where they’re doing the research and they’re going to start talking about solutions,” DeZarn-Vertz said. “The construction manager comes forward and talks about the constructability of those solutions and also the costs, and a budget estimate.

CD Smith would also help with design work, if the facilities committee recommends a new building or renovation project. Representatives from CD Smith were at Monday’s meeting. They said they’ve worked with other Wisconsin school districts on similar projects.

“This doesn’t mean we’re pouring concrete tomorrow, but I think the knowledge of what things will cost is important to this process,” Crombie said.

Matt Wolfert from Bray Architects provided an update on the facilities committee. Wolfert said the group has toured the district’s facilities and is accessing Columbus’ building needs. The next committee meeting is scheduled for May 20, 6 p.m., at the high school library. The district has been broadcasting the meetings through Facebook Live.

Superintendent salary questioned

Lee Trask, a Columbus parent, mentioned concerns with teacher compensation and Superintendent Annette Deuman’s salary during the meeting’s public comments portion.

Trask said Columbus’ teachers are paid, on average, lower than other area districts. Trask, through his own research, looked at teacher salary data from the state’s Department of Public Instruction through the past 10 years.

“From the school year ending in 2017 to the school year ending in 2018, the average rise in teacher compensation was 0.5% (in Columbus),” Trask said. “I looked at data from the past decade and Columbus has trailed the state average every year.”

Trask said he examined district administrators’ salaries, and noted, since 2016-17, the superintendent’s salary has risen by 5.6%. In 2017-18, according to Trask, Deuman’s salary increased by 6.5% to about $177,000, which includes benefits. Trask said Deuman’s salary is almost five percent above the state average and, based on level of experience, it’s 7.6 percent above the state average.

“In light of the recent petition, there’s hundreds of community members, stakeholders, parents, who don’t agree with paying that amount,” Trask said, referring to a petition to remove Deuman as superintendent. “But there has been unanimous support for the teachers. I ask that this board look at the data, take it seriously, and realign itself with the community’s priorities.”

Through a new teacher compensation plan, the district does plan to provide a slight raise to teachers in its proposed 2019-20 budget.

Ambitious plans for food program

Food Services Director Laura Austin, in her first year at the district, has some big goals for the food program.

Starting next school year, high school students won’t be able to leave campus for lunch. The high school will have two lunch periods and Austin would like to increase lunch participation. Austin plans to offer a coffee shop at the high school, along with a salad bar with “grab-and-go” salads and hot sandwiches. Austin also proposes having Domino’s in Beaver Dam deliver pizzas with low-fat cheese and whole-grain crust once a week.

“I would also like to continue our breakfast programs because we’ve had a good response,” Austin said.

The food services director also made a pitch to hire Sassy Cow, from the Columbus area, as the district’s milk services provider. Columbus currently uses Kemp’s, but also considered a bid from US Foods. Sassy Cow’s bid was less than $3,000 more ($34,299 per year) than Kemp’s but Austin said the district has had reliability issues with Kemp’s in the past year. US Foods came in as the highest bidder ($35,906). In addition, Austin said Sassy Cow offers somewhat healthier milk.

“They are 100 percent local, hormone-free, and have fixed pricing,” Austin said.

Crombie and Board President Cindy Damm got into a heated debate about the milk recommendation. Earlier in the meeting, the board voted not to consider a milk contract because it was considered a delegated item.

“Why are you even discussing it?” Crombie asked Damm.

Damm argued it’s a discussion about the process of selecting a milk provider.

“If I’m selling milk, I want that contract approved by the body that state law says should be approving that contract,” Crombie said.

Deuman said Austin, through district guidelines, has to use a competitive bid process and take into account the best interest of the district.

“I 100% feel that Sassy Cow Creamery is in the best interest of the district,” Crombie said. “It’s a local company, the cost difference is minute and I’m concerned where all of these other supposed concerns from board members are coming from that the board votes to delegate this to the superintendent and then all of a sudden there’s a huge discussion and debate over the issue.”

Resignations and retirements

The board accepted the resignation of ESP teacher Melody Tadych, part-time speech and language pathologist Irina Khitsun, junior varsity boys basketball coach Bruce Zahn, special education teacher Missy Greene and the retirements of fifth-grade teacher Kim Olander and office administrative assistant Donna Hayes.

The board also accepted the employment of Jamie Reyen, as a limited-term mathematics and science teacher at the middle school.

Board appointments

The board appointed Damm to another term as president, Bill Braun vice president, Julie Hajewski clerk, Keith Loppnow treasurer and Pam Zander, Deuman’s assistant, as deputy clerk/district secretary. Damm was also chosen as the CESA 5 delegate.

Follow Kevin Damask on Twitter @kdamask or contact him at 608-963-7323.

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