Board agrees to divide $49.5 million upgrade plan intoseparate votes on buildings, outdoor facilities in April 5 election
Buoyed by a community survey that shows widespread support for a $49.5 million referendum to upgrade school facilities, the Grafton School Board on Monday agreed to put the spending plans before voters in the spring 2016 general election.
In a unanimous vote, the seven-member board decided to have the plans presented as two referendum questions at the polls Tuesday, April 5.
One question will ask voters if the district should spend $47.7 million for renovation and reconstruction work at Grafton High School, John Long Middle School and Kennedy, Woodview and Grafton elementary schools.
A second question will ask if the district should spend $1.8 million to upgrade outdoor physical education, athletic and recreation areas.
Approval of $47.7 million in upgrades would result in an estimated tax-rate increase of $1.43 per $1,000 of equalized valuation. That would mean an annual increase of $286 in school taxes on a $200,000 house.
If the $1.8 million upgrades to outdoor facilities are approved, property owners would pay six cents more per $1,000 of equalized valuation — or $12 more annually on a $200,000 house.
“Whatever happens in April, this decision belongs to the citizens,” Supt. Mel Lightner said.
“This has been a citizen-involved project all the way, and that’s the way it has to be.”
In October, the board chose to focus on a $49.5 million referendum proposal, one of two upgrade options recommended by the Citizens Facilities Committee. The upgrades would be paid for through borrowing on a 24-year bond plan.
However, on Monday board members opted to separate the building renovations from outdoor recreation upgrades in response to a districtwide survey conducted by School Perceptions in November and December.
The survey — which received 1,228 responses and has a 2.9% margin of error — showed 64% of district residents likely to support a $49.5 million referendum. That includes 43% very likely to vote yes and 21% somewhat likely to vote yes.
Among parent residents, 73% said they would support the referendum.
Among non-parent, non-staff residents, support was 52%.
Respondents showed even more support for specific proposals included in the $47.7 million question: upgrading infrastructure needs (82%), renovating and expanding science facilities (82%), improving school safety and security (83%).
Upgrading outdoor recreation facilities received 64% support on the survey, but 31% of the respondents said they are not likely to vote for that plan.
Among non-parent, non-staff residents, 41% said they are not likely to support upgrading the outdoor facilities, and 7% were undecided.
“You’ve got very clear data that you should consider going to a referendum,” Bill Foster, president of School Perceptions, said during a presentation before the board.
The data also prompted board members to favor two referendum questions.
“It seems pretty clear that we should separate the questions,” Board President Terry Ziegler said.
That approach, Ziegler and other school officials agreed, would allow voters to prioritize upgrade options without jeopardizing the larger spending plan.
“What happens in classrooms will always be more important than what happens on ball fields,” Lightner said.
“Ball fields are important, but they are not the top priority when it comes to students.”
Board member Dan McKelvey said voters might be more likely to support the outdoor upgrades if they realize the tax impact is minimal.
“By separating them, it may help the cause” of both questions passing, McKelvey said.
In response to ongoing concerns with aging and deteriorating buildings and grounds, the board agreed last year to explore districtwide upgrade options. Besides hiring a consulting firm to assess needs, the board formed the Citizens Facilities Committee, a group of school, village and town officials and residents who reviewed the facilities assessment, tour ed buildings and developed upgrade options.
The $49.5 million proposal chosen by the board in October includes $32.1 million for upgrades to Grafton High School, which would be expanded to accommodate the addition of seventh and eighth grades in an adjoining middle school.
The combined-schools campus would have a variety of new classrooms, as well as a new gymnasium, soccer fields and varsity baseball and softball fields.
Other costs include $7 million to convert John Long Middle School for use as Grafton Elementary School, $5.5 million to upgrade Woodview Elementary School, $3.9 million to upgrade Kennedy Elementary School, $600,000 to demolish the current Grafton Elementary School next to the high school and $400,000 to upgrade district offices.
On Monday, the district’s bond counsel was instructed to prepare wording for the two referendum questions that will be considered at the Jan. 11 board meeting.
At that time, the board will make a final decision on the referendum. The district has until Jan. 26 to file the referendum questions with the Ozaukee County clerk’s office for the April 5 ballot.
Lightner said state law prohibits school districts from lobbying residents to approve a referendum question. However, he said, district officials will continue to educate voters about their options and the consequences of their election decisions through brochures, newsletters, informational sessions and other methods.
“Our job after Jan. 11 is to get all the facts out there and let the citizens decide,” Lightner said.
“The more educated a voter is, the better decision he can make.”