LMES enrollment projections

When residents within the Lake Mills School District were sent a survey in the fall about supporting the building of a new intermediate school for grades three through five on district-owned property located on Highway 89 south, the price tag for the project was $33 to $36 million. More recent estimates presented at the May 11 public information session have bumped that number up to $42-$44 million.

According to Peter Saindon of Findorff, which has been working with the district on the proposal, the change is due to market volatility, supply issues and labor shortages, which all impact the overall inflation rate.

“In the last six months we have seen inflation across our industry at an average of 10%,” he said.

Furthermore, Saindon projected how the prices could increase in the next few months when factoring the most recent cost estimate.

The presentation shown during the information session showed it was the school building and not any of the other costs that will be incurred by the project such as minor remodels to the current elementary school that caused the substantial price increase.

Saindon said Findorff would continue to monitor the price estimate increases for the next several months as the date to declare a referendum question for the November election, Aug. 30, draws closer.

The proposed numbers do not reflect any specific building design; the design and bidding process for the potential new school would not occur until after the referendum passes.

District finance director Tasha Naylor said based on the possibility of having a referendum to not exceed $44 million the tax impact for the building would be 68-cents per $1,000 of property valuation.

Building an intermediate school is only part of the referendum equation. The district would pose a second question asking voters to approve a recurring operational budget for $950,000 to operate a fourth school. Naylor explained the bulk of this money is used for staff salaries and benefits. However, since teachers will be moved to a new building, those salaries and benefits have already been calculated into the regular budget.

The $950,000 will pay for salaries and benefits for office staff, custodians, food service staff, school counselor, a library media specialist, reading teacher and other necessary staff. It will also fund the utilities, technology and future maintenance costs necessary to operate the building.

The recurring operational referendum does not include furniture for the new school as those costs are being absorbed by the building budget.

The finance director said to the best of her knowledge, the district has never gone to an operational referendum, only building project referendums.

Naylor said the recurring operational referendum would add 72-cents per $1,000 of property value. She added that the $950,000 would be ongoing with no end date put in place unlike the building referendum being proposed that would be paid off in the future.

The two referendum questions would result in a combined $1.40 per $1,000 of property value increase.

According to Superintendent Tonya Olson, the Lake Mills School District has the lowest school tax rate in Jefferson County and in the past five years has actually seen a 20% school tax decrease.

New building would allow for smaller classesThe school district’s desire to build a fourth school is to better accommodate capacity. Eric Dufek of eu:a said when the current elementary school was being designed, it was to accommodate 600 students in grades kindergarten through four with 24 students per classroom. At the time, it was estimated each grade would need five classrooms. However, since 2014 the district has shifted to a desire for smaller class sizes with 18 students in each kindergarten classroom; 20 students in each first and second grade classroom; and 22 students in each third and fourth grade classroom. This decreased the overall desired capacity to 508 students.

“So the capacity of the school has shrunken,” Dufek said. “The capacity is less because we are putting less students in the classroom.”

Using the new 508 student capacity, the elementary school is already over capacity by 62 students and will continue to be overcapacity based on enrollment forecasts. Based on the numbers presented by Dufek, the school would meet the previous 600 student capacity in the 2024-25 school year.

Dufek said Lake Mills is not unique in decreasing the number of students per classroom at the elementary school, noting this is being done statewide.

Eric Dufek, a senior designed with eu:a said the new elementary school was never meant to be the final solution. According to him, Prospect Elementary School needed to be replaced and Lake Mills Elementary School was to serve as an immediate replacement that would offer a bit more student capacity than the former facility. He also acknowledged the district knew at that time it would need a fourth school.

“Our instructional strategies have changed over the course of the past several decades,” said Amanda Thompson, district director of teaching and learning, noting the positive impacts of having fewer students in each classroom such as being able to ensure each child has their educational, social and emotional needs met.

Additionally, the district would like to be able to bring more programs into the current elementary school, which could not be accomplished without a separate intermediate school that would remove the third and fourth graders from the building. Thompson said the district would like to be able to have Head Start, Early Childhood, and 4K all operate within the elementary school.

The Head Start program is a federally-funded program for low-income families run through Jefferson County and the school district serves as a partner. Thompson said the program had been run out of the elementary school, which gave students and families the opportunity to form relationships with school staff. But, this year there was not enough space at the elementary school and the program is now operated out of the Rock Lake Activity Center.

Thompson said Early Childhood, which is for 3-year-old children who have special needs, was previously operated as a co-op program with Johnson Creek, which hosted the site. Beginning this year, the program was brought back to Lake Mills and uses a classroom at the elementary school. She said this decision limits the number of transitions students in Early Childhood and their families undergo.

“If you think about the relationships between the teachers and some of our students who have special needs, those relationships are incredibly important to make sure that our students are off to the best possible start in their education,” Thompson said.

The district staff member said Lake Mills School District started offering 4K about 20 years ago. She said when it was started, the district did not want the optional program to be detrimental to the city’s existing childcare facilities. The school district decided that instead of having 4K classrooms in the elementary school, it would partner with existing childcare centers to serve as host sites.

About five years ago, the district had a shift in philosophy about 4K programming.

“We discovered we were spending a lot of our resources and time going into those partnership sites to be able to support our students for a variety of reasons,” Thompson said. “A lot of that boils down to emotional support … we had students who just needed emotional support different than what we were able to provide at that 4K site because all of our resources (staff) were at the elementary school.”

The district decided to have one 4K site at the elementary school, with a morning and afternoon session in the building, to bring those students who needed the extra support closer to the staff who provide it. Thompson said by moving a site to the elementary school, there was a reduction in the need for behavior interventions among the youngest students.

She noted even though originally the district thought it would be most beneficial to use community site for 4K, things have changed since the initial plan and the district has found the staff who have advanced degrees in child development are “the experts to be with those 4K students.” Thompson said this was the reason for a desire to have 4K at the elementary school.

Another option the district would like to offer is wraparound care for 4K students; families would need to pay for the service the district would provide at the elementary school. Thompson said this is not feasible with the current operations.