Gibraltar School Advised to Borrow ASAP

Board approves staff raises and new curriculum for English

Following voters’ overwhelming approval during the April 4 election of a $29.8 million building project, the Gibraltar Area School Board was urged to move quickly to secure debt to pay for the project.

Due to volatility in the bond market but historically low rates at present, a Baird investment banker – who has assisted the Gibraltar district since a 1999 bond issue – advised the board to take steps quickly to allow her to lock in a low interest rate.

Lisa Voisin of Baird said they had projected an interest rate of 4.5%, and “right now, rates are well under that. Rates are going up and down fast. I want to mitigate risk and get into the market soon,” she said, asking the board to approve a short-term construction loan by April 24 and also give Baird the go-ahead to secure a bond rating for the district and lock in rates. That could happen as early as mid-May.

Voisin said the district currently has an AA-minus rating, and if that improves to AA, that would save $260,000 in overall interest costs.

Also, she said, the project is still in conceptual design phases, so once the district has $29.8 million in hand, current high interest rates would result in $2 million in interest revenue before construction actually begins.

“The sooner you get the money invested, it’s about $3,300 a day in interest,” Voisin said.

School District Employees Receive a Raise

The vote was all “ayes” for an overall salary-and-benefits package increase of 7.5% for all teachers, support staff, confidential staff and administrative staff. 

“All salaried and nonsalaried staff will receive a minimum 6% salary increase in 2023-24,” according to information with the board packet. Superintendent Brett Stousland said employees whose job requirements have increased will receive a new salary or hourly wage.

Antidiscrimination Policy 

The board approved the first reading of a revised policy that calls for restroom stalls and showers built in the new addition to have doors that can be secured and/or walls that reach to the floor to ensure the privacy of students, visitors and staff. The policy also adds gender identity to the statement.

“Discrimination, bullying and harassment on the basis of sex, sexual orientation, transgender status, gender identity and gender expression is prohibited in the school,” according to the revised policy.

The policy also notes that staff members must not enforce dress codes unevenly and that “within the construct of the district’s dress-code policy, students may dress in accordance with their gender identity.”

Board member Stephen Seyfer urged anyone with concerns, comments or observations about the policy contained on the school website in the April 10 board packet to contact him, Stousland or board member Jessica Sauter prior to the second reading and the April 24 board meeting.

Curriculum Change Applauded

Kari Baumann – the top vote-getter in the April 4 board race – applauded an ad hoc committee of elementary school teachers and the school board’s Curriculum Committee for adopting EL Education as the new English language-arts curriculum for the district. Baumann said she believes her son, who has dyslexia, would have been able to learn in the Gibraltar school if the curriculum were in place years earlier.

Elementary school principal Lauren Ward thanked fourth-grade teacher Bridget Schopf for spearheading research during Ward’s maternity leave. Ward said the ad hoc committee, which is made up of a diverse mix of educators, studied different curricula, made site visits and saw students engaged and interested in learning within the EL curriculum. Committee members also delved deeply into how well the EL curriculum would mix with some of their current teaching strengths and principles.

“We might be letting go of some curriculum strands we already have,” Ward said.

Her next steps after adopting the curriculum are determining the costs of materials and professional development, then returning to the board with a dollar figure.

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