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Prescott Referendum Buzz: Why operate four buildings?

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news Ellsworth, 54011
Pierce County Herald
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Ellsworth Wisconsin 126 S. Chestnut St. 54011

By Roger Hulne, Prescott School Superintendent 

A school referendum for a new building creates a lot of buzz, and the April 1 Prescott referendum is no exception. Last week I discussed the reasoning behind the proposal to build a new high school and why the timing is favorable. This week, I will answer some questions that have surfaced about operating a fourth building.

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This referendum is presented in three questions on the April 1st ballot:

1. The first question requests authorization to borrow funds, not to exceed $27,980,000, to build and equip a new high school on property that the district owns east of Dexter Street.

2. The second question requests authorization to borrow funds, not to exceed $4,260,00 to construct and equip an auditorium onto the new high school.

3. Question 3 requests authorization to exceed the revenue limit by $110,000 a year for four years beginning with the 2016-2017 school year for a portion of the new high school operating expenses.

Why Keep the Middle School?

Some people have suggested that the district should sell the current Middle School building. Instead of locating 4th-5th grades in that building, it has been implied that the district should just create more space for two grades in another building to reduce overall operating costs. Besides the fact that there is no buyer waiting to purchase the building and expanding the existing buildings will not provide a long-term solution, there are many good and valid reasons to honor the community commitment to the Middle School facility.

The current Middle School building has proven to be important to this community. That building served as the original K-12 school building in Prescott’s early years and has provided a place for student learning ever since. Voters have rejected referendums that discontinued use of the middle school and supported referendums that renovated and improved that building. In 2004, the voters approved $7,030,000 in renovations and an addition to the facility. There are many people who maintain a commitment to honor the role of that building in the continued education of our community.

The current Middle School is a very well maintained building with the opportunity to continue providing valuable space for the district. The space issues at that location will be greatly alleviated by housing only two grade levels. The limited green space and parking issues will be less problematic when serving approximately 100 fewer students. There will also be more classroom space, which will ease the looming capacity issues and allow the district to maintain effective teacher-student ratios.

Space in the lower level of the building will be available for community use. For example, senior citizens and other community groups could have space for meetings and activities. Community Education programs will be located at that location for better access and dedicated space. The building is updated for full accessibility and the lower level is easily separated from the general student population for life-long learning and social needs in the community. This will also provide an opportunity for special connections and programs in that building to link the students and community.

Is this an unusual model for education?

Prescott will not be the first community to use an Intermediate school model and ultimately operate four buildings. Many districts across the State use this model. In our area, The Amery School District and the Osceola School District are two examples of communities with Intermediate Schools. This is very effective in helping upper level elementary ages transition to the Middle School environment with a commons area, lockers, larger library, etc. In communities experiencing growth, such as Prescott, this model is a very effective way to keep grade levels together for better collaboration among grade level teachers and students.

Can we afford to operate a fourth building?

The cost of operating four buildings was carefully reviewed by concerned citizens with strong financial backgrounds. By analyzing the additional cost, as well as the value of increased state revenues and reduced rent costs associated with the portable classrooms and off-site space, most of the increase will be covered through the district general fund budget process. The referendum does include a question to address the small amount of remaining operating costs. By contrast, adding more space to Malone or to the new high school would create additional construction costs and increase the tax debt levy instead of utilizing the investment in space that already exists. The full financial analysis is available on the district website.

There are always many questions and everyone is encouraged to seek answers at an upcoming community forum on Thursday, March 20 at 7:00 p.m. at the Middle School. All planning documents, including past facility research and recommendations, are also available on the district website at www.prescott.k12.wi.us. Please check that out for a better understanding of the issues, the research, and the proposal. You can also contact the District Office at 715-262-5782 with questions. Watch for next week’s Superintendent’s Scoop for answers to more common questions.

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