MHS gym space concept

{child_kicker}School District of Milton{/child_kicker}

Voters say yes to $59.9 million

{child_byline}By Rebecca Kanable

couriernews@hngnews.com{/child_byline}

Editor’s note: This is a lengthier version of the article that appears in the April 11, 2019, Milton Courier.

What a difference an election makes.

Though the margin again was narrow, voters in the April 2019 election approved a $59.9 million facilities referendum in the School District of Milton 3,529 (53 percent) to 3,148 (47 percent). (These totals include Rock County and one precinct in Jefferson County.)

“People are excited, this is a good day for kids,” said Superintendent Tim Schigur during an interview on Wednesday, April 3.

What changed since voters voted against facilities referendums in November 2016 and November 2017?

The referendums

First, the referendum itself.

The approved referendum does not include a new high school. It includes secure entry points throughout the building to increase student safety, a STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) wing for flexible and modern learning, performing arts space renovation, gymnasium expansion, an ADA-accessible pool, and overall improved ADA accessibility. The approved referendum includes improvements at Consolidated, East, Harmony and West elementary schools. Classroom spaces will be enhanced to address overcrowding and support modern learning, and ADA accessibility will be improved. At East, art and music additions will get students out of the basement, and cafeteria space will be increased. At Consolidated, a secure entry addition will increase student safety. At West, the art room will be renovated and cafeteria space will be increased. At the middle school, science classrooms will be added and the commons space will be renovated.

The November 2016 referendum included a new high school next to the current high school. The old high school building would have become the new middle school. Grade realignment would have meant grades 6-8 would go to the middle school, grades 3-5 would go to the intermediate school and grades 4K-2 would go to elementary schools. (The district also planned to maintain community-based 4K sites.)

The November 2017 referendum included construction of an addition at East Elementary, conversion of the current high school to the middle school, construction of a new high school and renovations and improvements to provide for grade-level reconfiguration.

Comparing costs, the first capital referendum was $87 million. The second was $69.9 million (and the third was $59.9 million).

The estimated annual tax impact for $100,000 of equalized property value went down, then up. The 2016 referendum estimated a $177 increase, while the 2017 referendum estimated a $146 increase, and the approved referendum estimates a $164 increase.

Voter turnout

In the April election, 6,677 school district voters (including the Town of Koshkonong in Jefferson County) turned out.

When the only item on the ballot was the referendum (in November 2017), fewer people voted (5,997 including the Town of Koshkonong in Jefferson County).

Of the three capital referendum elections, the highest turnout (10,963 including the Town of Koshkonong) coincided with the Fall General Presidential Election in November 2016. That election also had an operational referendum on the ballot for $2.5 million (for five years) with an estimated annual tax impact of $124 per $100,000 equalized property value. (That operational referendum passed with 53 percent (5,737) of the votes.)

The highest percentage voting either yes or no each time was 55-51 percent.

Looking how individual areas voted in the most recent election, the yes votes outweighed the no votes for the first time in the City of Milton (952-834), Town of Harmony (559-403) and City of Janesville Ward 20 (170-145). The boundaries of Ward 20 include M-H Townline, Kettering, Highway 26 and the railroad tracks.

Consistently voting no starting in 2016 have been the Town of Fulton (192-298, 77-165, and most recently 112-176), Town of Johnstown (137-231, 68-131 and 91-138), Town of Lima (50-90, 24-61 and 40-60), Town of Milton (196-255, 287-507 and 375-472) and the Town of Koshkonong (20-48, 11-20 and 20-29).

Consistently voting yes starting in 2016 have been three wards in the City of Janesville: Ward 19 (240-162, 118-74 and 133-73), Ward 21 (665-499, 303-272 and 386-274) and Ward 22 (737-607, 343-311 and 432-311).

Reaction

Schigur reacting to the election results, commented first on the voter turnout (6,675).

“We’re obviously very excited,” he said.

Also exciting, he said, is a vote in favor of making improvements for the learning experiences for the students and the teaching environments for the staff.

“It’s been long journey to get to this point,” he said, adding the journey will continue with design and scope of the work. “It’s been a very positive experience today. I think that the excitement of knowing that the community is behind this is just very hope-inspiring for the future of the school district.”

Schigur said factors contributing yes votes outweighing the no votes included community input followed by the school board designing a solution more global in nature.

“The first referendums were definitely districtwide,” he said. “This one, I believe, feels more districtwide to the community. Having additions and/or renovations at six buildings, there’s just a greater sense of a districtwide solution. And, I believe that having improvements made physically to six buildings, families and community members can see that those improvements will have a quicker impact on the various age groups.”

He said he also thought approved solution had voter appeal because it did not involve grade level reconfigurations.

And, with the previous referendums, he said people had a harder time visualizing how a new high school would impact the entire district.

In YouTube videos and other materials, as well as in discussion at open houses, Schigur said information was more purposeful and relevant to what people were asking about.

“I think that when we did our first presentations (for the first two capital referendum attempts) that we assumed things, whereas this time around we really listened to what are the questions that are out there,” he said.

Next steps

Schigur said next steps include working with contractors Plunkett Raysich Architects and JP Cullen and financial consultant Robert W. Baird & Co. next week to map out the process for updating bonds and to develop a timeline for the scope of work to be done over the next two years.

He said the board, as early as next week, will talk about the owner’s rep side of things.

“We’re not going to rush, but what are the next steps in order to get things in queue,” he said.

Administration and policies

At the Milton Family Restaurant on Wednesday, a voter who asked not to be named, said he voted yes for kids, not for his confidence in the administration.

“I still think there are issues with the administration,” he said.

In a nearby booth, a Town of Harmony resident agreed, “I don’t like the shenanigans.”

The Milton Courier asked Schigur to respond.

When it comes to policies and procedures, he said “it’s always good for us to look at how we go about doing the business of the district. When there are concerns that are raised or situations that come up, while there was absolutely no wrongdoing by any administration during this whole process, I think it’s good for us to look at how to do things better. With stipends or with those types of situations moving forward, I believe it’s in the district’s best interest to have – maybe it’s not policy – maybe it’s a procedure – but some way where those go through the board.”

Another consideration he said are what are the things that should go to the board and what are the things that are decided by the administration.

“Sometimes it’s sometimes good to reflect and look at how do we do things better and this is a great example of that,” he said.

Previously

A report by Attorney Lori Lubinsky, a partner at Axley Law Firm in Madison, looked into whether or not the manner in which three stipends were approved violated state law or board policy. The March 4 report concluded:

• School board president Tom Westrick violated board policy when he, in effect, approved an increase of compensation (a $10,500 stipend) for Superintendent Tim Schigur. (At an earlier school board meeting, Westrick said he had made a mistake.)

• Board member Brian Kvapil violated the public records law by releasing documents to the media without providing to the record subjects notice of the impending release of the records and their right to augment the record.

• Neither violation was intentional.

The report did not find that Schigur, Director of Administrative Operations Jerry Schuetz or technology staff member Michael Gouvion, who is a former Milton Courier employee, did anything wrong.

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