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School funding questions now up to district voters

On Nov. 4 Ellsworth School District residents will be asked to vote on two referenda.

Adoption of one would allow the school district to exceed its state-mandated property tax limit by $900,000 for each of the next five years. Adoption of the other would allow the school district to borrow up to $2 million for a series of maintenance projects.

The resolutions authorizing the referenda were adopted on a 6-0 vote of the school board Sept. 15.

If the referenda fail, the district won't be able to do critical building and facilities maintenance and will have to trim programs and teachers, said Superintendent Barry Cain Friday.

He said the two referenda would increase taxes by $23 a year for each $100,000 of assessed property value. For example, owners of a house valued at $200,000 would pay $46 more a year.

"This is not unusual in the state of Wisconsin," said Cain of the district's need to go to voters for authority to borrow and to spend over a revenue limit, set by an intricate state formula that takes into account enrollment and property values.

The $900,000 revenue limit override is necessary "to continue the current programming that we have for our students and our citizens," said Cain. Without it, he said, the district will have to cut programs and teachers.

He said the district has already implemented $3 million in cuts since 2002, mostly by closing two elementary schools and reorganizing.

If voters don't approve the $900,000 override of the revenue limit, the district will have to make substantial cuts by next April, said Cain.

Adoption of the $2 million borrowing proposal would allow the district to tackle a list of needed repairs, improvements and upgrades, said the superintendent.

Those include replacing part of the high school roof and the building's hot water system, replacement of boilers and controls, repair of the high school track, bleacher replacements, plumbing upgrades for the high school and replacing the heating, ventilation and air conditioning system in part of the building.

The needs are critical, and if the work isn't done soon, the cost will only increase, said Cain.

The work would involve repair or replacement of equipment that has exceeded its life expectancy and would improve energy efficiency, said Cain.

"A lot of the systems we have in the high school are the original systems," he said, explaining that means they are nearly 50 years old.

"They're needs that aren't going away," said Cain.

For example, he said the track, which has an anticipated usable life of 10 or 11 years, is 19 years old.

"It has posed a hazard for our ability to host meets," said Cain.

He said the list of projects is still being put together, but it would prioritize the most pressing needs and would include only projects with a longer life-expectancy.

The superintendent has already scheduled six presentations to discuss the referenda with various groups. He said he would welcome invitations from others.

"I want to get the information to the people so the people understand," said Cain.