School Board agrees to place two spending questions on April 5 ballot
With little fanfare, the Grafton School Board on Monday finalized plans to place a $49.5 million referendum to upgrade school district facilities before voters in the Tuesday, April 5, general election.
In a unanimous vote, the seven-member board approved resolutions that will present the spending plans in two questions.
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.
Supt. Mel Lightner prefaced the board vote by saying the time has come for the referendum questions to be decided by voters. He noted that the board agreed last year to explore upgrade options in response to ongoing concerns with aging and deteriorating buildings and grounds.
“There has been a tremendous amount of input from residents in shaping this referendum,” Lightner told a crowd of several dozen people at Monday’s meeting.
“The district belongs to the citizens, and a referendum is democracy in its purest form.”
During the past year, the board hired a consulting firm to assess district needs and formed the Citizens Facilities Committee, a group of school, village and town officials and residents who reviewed the facilities assessment, toured buildings and developed upgrade options.
A districtwide survey conducted by School Perceptions last fall showed 64% of district residents likely to support a $49.5 million referendum.
Among the 1,228 respondents, 43% said they are very likely to vote yes and 21% said they were somewhat likely to vote yes.
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 technology center, 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.
The $47.7 million in upgrades would be paid for through borrowing in a 24-year bond plan, though the actual impact on the tax rate would vary annually depending on budget factors.
Although the board invited public comments during Monday’s meeting, only two audience members spoke. One voiced support for the referendum and the other expressed skepticism about the process used in preparing the questions.
Carl Hader, head of the Grafton High School technology education department, strongly urged a yes vote.
“This is not a passing fad. This is the best way for us to make way for the future,” Hader said.
“We have great kids here in Grafton. The survey results, the data, shows that the community understands and wants things from this school district that will make their children successful.”
Town of Grafton resident Robert Nelson questioned if district officials did enough research in preparing the referendum questions.
“I believe the K-12 schools are the pillar for the economic vitality of the community going forward,” Nelson said. “But I believe $50 million incorporates a lot of wants with a lot of needs.”
Nelson said more consideration of the district’s long-term needs and maintenance costs is needed. He suggested the board delay its referendum decision until after April 5 because two new members will be chosen in the election.
Board President Terry Ziegler noted that Monday’s decision came with no public comments from board members but said that was because so much work has already been done in preparing the referendum.
“It seems like a formality now, but it’s not a formality,” Ziegler told the audience.
“We have spent a great deal of time looking at so many things. I’m excited now that the next phase starts in earnest.”
Grafton’s referendum vote will come one year after Port Washington-Saukville School District residents approved a $49.4 million spending plan to upgrade schools. Taxpayers in that district are facing a $1.89 tax-rate increase.
Although the total cost of upgrades in each district is comparable, the Port Washington-Saukville rate is higher because it has a lower property-tax base, officials said.