If the Poynette School District’s upcoming $28 million facilities referendum passes muster in November, a $200,000 home owner could pay about $280 in additional property tax, according to recent district estimates.
A $300,000 home owner would pay about $420 more in annual municipal levies.
The numbers were presented Oct. 3 during an informational referendum meeting at Arlington Elementary School. About 25 people were in attendance, including some district administrators, school board members and community partners.
Attendees heard from District Administrator Matt Shappell and had the opportunity to speak with administrators and consultants who’re assisting in the referendum’s planning process.
Shappell spoke about district facility deficiencies and the desire to bring classrooms “into the 21st century,” he said. Those deficiencies include cramped classroom quarters and a lack of modern security measures in some areas of school campuses.
Specifically, the referendum seeks money to construct a new $23 million elementary school on district property west of Highway 51, as well as $2.5 million in security upgrades and improvements to education classrooms at the high school, as well as $2.9 million for district-wide building infrastructure.
Shappell said that while the district’s enrollment is projected to remain generally flat, the schools’ facilities are falling behind the times. One major improvement of the referendum, Shappell said, would be to create open-air classrooms that more closely resemble working environments of the modern day.
Shappell said those open floor spaces also create additional flexibility for a learning environment, meaning a higher level of equity for all children, the district said.
“We know all students learn differently,” Shappell said.
Dekkora resident Karen Bender attended the Oct. 3 meeting and said her business consulting firm often meets with companies who struggle to find qualified, prepared employees.
Bender said that Poynette’s desire to improve STEAM (science, technology, engineering, agriculture/art and math) classrooms and create flexible learning environments could be a boon for the future workforce.
“When I see the STEAM stuff, I think (the district) is talking about what we need,” Bender said.
Bender, who voiced support for the referendum, said the projected rise in taxes shouldn’t deter residents from voting to support school upgrades for the Poynette area children.
She said rumors have been circulating around town that homeowners would see an at least an additional $1,000 on their property tax bill – a rumor which the district’s numbers dispel.
“If they understand (how much the mill rate is set to rise), it will be fine,” Bender said of the referendum. “…I’m just not sure the right information is getting out about the actual impact.”
The district also identified deficiencies in gymnasium and assembly space. Current facilities are estimated to require $9.7 million in maintenance costs over the next decade, according to district data, a figure that surpasses budgeted maintenance monies.
School Board Member Jamie Pauli said he recognizes a $28 million debt might be a hard sell. But he said the planning process was “thorough” and included input from across the Poynette area.
“It’s a rural community,” Pauli said. “People work hard for their dollars. We know it’s a big decision.”
A community advisory committee was formed last October and met twice a month up to the summer. The group compiled a running list of deficiencies and provided a number of options for the district to consider.
Those options eventually formed the basis of the referendum.
The district also sent out a community survey to gauge residents’ interest in a potential referendum. Seventy-four percent of residents responded to the referendum poll, according to school officials.
“We were very impressed with that,” Shappell said of the participation.
Fifty-nine percent of respondents indicated support to build a new elementary school, while 70 percent supported moving kindergarten classes out of the Arlington Learning Center to a new elementary school, if one is built.
Asking residents to pay for new school facilities is nothing new in Poynette. For more than 20 years, the district has pursued substantial bond projects – but voters have largely stymied those efforts.
Going back to 1995, just three out of 14 district referendums have passed, totaling about $10.8 million in bond issuances, according to district data. Eleven referendums totaling more than $86 million have failed, including three votes calling for major construction and new schools in 1995, 2007 and 2008.
The largest successful referendum during that 23-year period was in 1999, when voters approved a $9.215 million effort to remodel and expand three schools. That issuance passed with a vote of 890-793.
The next year, in 2000, a $200,000 referendum to address operating and maintenance costs was approved by a margin of 535-493.
It would be about seven years until district called for another referendum.
Residents approved $1.58 million in debt during 2007 to replace the district pool vessel, make code upgrades, and to construct and stock an equipment building.
Residents vote on this year’s referendum Nov. 6.