SCC task force to recommend $23 million expansion
After months of meetings and information-packed discussions that began April 7, it all came down to Monday night.
“This community values schools,” said Peter Leatherman of the Morris Leatherman Company. “The idea that somebody paid for my kids, so I will pay for your kids, indicates there is a generational obligation toward this referendum in this district.”
Leatherman explained the results of a two-week phone survey commissioned by the St. Croix Central Facilities Task Force (FTF) to members at their meeting Monday evening.
The survey was conducted over a two-week period bridging the Memorial Day weekend and was expected to provide a critical component in the decision-making process leading up to the task force’s recommendation to the school board due June 23. The survey asked 300 randomly selected residents a series of 30 questions to create an accurate profile of the community’s preferences regarding issues ranging from tax tolerance to adding a new auditorium to changing grade configurations.
“We look at referendums kind of like patients. This patient looks good,” Leatherman said.
He went on to caution members, “Keep in mind there are a couple issues that could trip up a referendum in the minds of residents in this district. The eighth-grade issue and the new building are two issues that we would recommend avoiding if you want to do a November referendum. You have a couple other key issues in the district that people clearly support or they oppose. As the planning process moves forward, if you move in a direction opposite of residents’ opinions, that will require communication in an effort to convert them to why this is important to the district. You have some flexibility in the minds of the district to move forward with some sort of plan keeping in mind the core reasons for that support is not a value, they see the need,” Leatherman said.
Leatherman explained that the survey asked neutral questions, being very careful not to influence respondents’ answers. The survey first asked very general questions about taxes and potential facility components. Each successive round of questions provided more detail enabling the task force to identify at what level the tax burden became unsupportable and which facility improvements would not be supported. Support fell off as the budget approached $30 million to accommodate a new elementary building (40 percent) while moving the eighth grade to the high school also failed to generate serious support (32 percent).
In general terms, the survey indicated that the community would support a budget in the neighborhood of $20 million, which translated into an additional $12.75 a month in property taxes for an average household valued at $100,000. It also indicated that a facility proposal designated as Option D would be generally acceptable.
Option D leaves the the current grade configuration in place. It also accounts for a new auditorium, auxiliary gym, additional STEM space and special education space at the high school, four additional classrooms at the middle school, an additional gym and classrooms at the elementary school, and new bus garage. Improvements that garnered widespread support included an improved bus/parent drop-off area at the elementary school (80 percent), additional classrooms at the elementary school (78 percent) and improved security at the middle school and high school entrances (74 percent). Items like an auditorium at the high school (58 percent) and additional gym at the elementary school (54 percent) received less enthusiastic support. Detailed results of the survey can be found on the district website at scc.k12.wi.us.
“With the components listed (in the survey), you’ve already exceeded tax tolerance and you still have high levels of support. The question becomes, how high can you raise it before you begin to lose the support of the community?” Leatherman said.
Vaughn Dierks of Wold Architects and Craig Uhlenbrauck of Miron Construction received advanced results from the survey. Dierks prepared and presented updated floor and site plans based on Option D. Uhlenbrauck presented an updated budget also based on Option D, which ranged between $20 million and $23 million. Based on the survey results, task force members rejected the idea of building a new elementary school and agreed to keep the current grade configuration. They also reached consensus that any referendum must provide solutions that address the needs of the district for a minimum of 10 years.
“You get to write the menu and as long as you stay within the guidelines of what the community said, there is a strong chance of success,” Leatherman said.
He explained the key to success is to determine what combination of options both meet the needs of the district for the next 10 years while also conforming to tax expectations. In order for options that are necessary but do not enjoy overwhelming support to be included in the package, they must be proven to be valuable and necessary in terms of learning and curriculum.
Members broke into small discussion groups to debate the details of what had been presented. One of the issues most debated was the addition of 4K to the elementary school. The survey indicated decisive support for such an addition (64 percent). The debate centered around whether that addition should become a separate question on the referendum. Another concern surfaced regarding what new operational costs will result from this expansion, particularly at the elementary school where 4K could be added.
District Superintendent Tim Widiker said the administration has already begun to explore whether additional personnel will be needed and what impact that would have cost-wise.
Ultimately the task force decided there should be only one question on the referendum and that the 4K addition should be included in the proposed budget at an estimated cost of $750,000 to $850,000. The task force tentatively agreed on a budget not to exceed $23 million to fund Option D. That would work out to roughly $15.50 per month worth of additional property tax for a typical household. Uhlenbrauck, Widiker and Dierks were tasked with sharpening their pencils to further refine the budget before the June 23 recommendation. They also promised to determine an estimate for additional operating costs that would accompany any expansion. Final numbers are expected to be delivered to the members by Friday, June 20.
Uhlenbrauck thanked the task force members for their dedication, diligence and perseverance through this process and encouraged them to consider staying involved by joining one of the new committees that will form in order to prepare the community for the referendum in November. Those committees include a finance committee charged with addressing the tax impact of the referendum, a communication committee charged with outreach and educating as many community members as possible, an inreach committee charged with staff education, and a voter mobilization committee charged with getting out the vote in November.
The next meeting of the FTF is scheduled for Monday, June 23, at 6 p.m. at the middle school library.