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GFW superintendent presents 100-day plan

GIBBON — New Gibbon Fairfax Winthrop (GFW) School Superintendent Jeff Horton presented his 100-day plan to the school board Monday.

Several dozen people, as many as 48 at times, viewed the meeting via Zoom on the school district’s Facebook site.

“I’d like to thank the school board for its wisdom. Board attendance rose when we started live-steaming meetings,” Horton said. “We have a lot of exciting things happening here right now. There are some really urgent things happening now.”

Horton said his plan includes budgeting, COVID-19 planning, a facilities review, listening, a social media campaign, district-wide mailings and presentations in the coming weeks.

“We’re in statutory operating debt (SOD). Our revenues have not kept up with our debts,” Horton said. “State and federal funding doesn’t give us what we should get. School districts are put in a really challenging place. We aren’t the first school district in SOD.

“Should we be concerned? Yes,” Horton said. “The communities and schools and have to come together. It can work. We have the lowest property taxes in the area and the second-lowest farm taxes. We have to get out of SOD in five years.”

Horton said the school district cut $468,000 from its budget last year as part of its SOD plan.

“We’re moving in the correct direction to get out of debt,” Horton added.

“I’m hearing everybody is leaving GFW. Some people feel that way. But that’s not true,” he said. ‘We had a little enrollment decline. Enrollment will fluctuate over time. We’re going to have a great budget.”

Horton said some nearby school districts will have operating levy referendums in the coming years.

GFW voters will vote on an operating levy referendum Tuesday, Aug. 13.

“GFW has great class sizes and education classes including STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) classes because we care about it,” Horton said.

If approved, the GFW operating referendum would raise taxes $16.67 a month, $200 a year on a home valued at $100,000.

“If we pass it, it will help us maintain programs and be fiscally sound,” Horton said. “We’ve got passionate teachers here. I’ve talked to them. They’ve told me about some of the great things happening here. I want to spend time with students too and learn what they want to see.

Horton said if the August referendum fails, classes will become larger and programs will be cut.

“We also have to pay back our debts on top of taxes,” Horton said.

“I plan to help educate people to make an informed decision,” Horton said. “I believe in accountability including myself. I’ll work with legislators on developing a GFW legislative platform. I’ve done it before.”

Horton said he will work to create a more efficient budget with evidence-based, strategic planning.

He talked about equity and reaching all students.

“We have a lot of English-language learners but it’s not just about race,” Horton said. “Forty-two percent of our students get free and reduced lunches.”

Horton said he will meet with many groups in the coming weeks and months, townships, cities and everyone else to learn how to best serve them.

Fritz Busch can be emailed at fbusch@nujournal.com.

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