Elkhorn residents to see school referendum with no projected tax increase

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Jonah Beleckis
Wednesday, November 2, 2016

ELKHORN—Elkhorn Area School District residents will have the opportunity Tuesday to vote for a $22.9 million set of school renovations and additions with no projected rise in school taxes.

Although the district originally projected a tax rate increase of $8 per $100,000 of property value for this referendum, a $755,364 increase in state aid eases the tax burden if the referendum is approved, Superintendent Jason Tadlock said.

Taking into account the final state aid numbers recently released and if the $22.9 million referendum passes, the school board is still set to vote on a 2016-17 budget with a 1 percent tax levy decrease.

The district does not get final state aid numbers for the ongoing school year until October, so the district makes a projection when crunching numbers in summer.

Tadlock said state aid increased for Elkhorn because other state property values have been increasing faster than in Walworth County. That means the Elkhorn district was downgraded from “property rich” to more “high-average” in the state’s formula for aid.

The state aid increase is also based on increasing enrollment, he said.

Given the financial flexibility, voters will still consider the upgrades in this year's referendum.

According to a district fact sheet, the $22.9 million referendum would cover:

-- Purchase of 56 acres east of the high school and west of Highway 12.

-- Upgrades for safety and traffic circulation at the middle school by coordinating planning with the expansion of Market Street.

-- Construction of agricultural greenhouse facilities at the high school.

-- Renovation of the high school auditorium to replace the original 1967 lighting, wiring, seating, floors and paint.

-- Remodeling classrooms and special education spaces at the middle school and high school.

-- Renovation of remaining unfinished space in the 1887 building, the district offices.

-- Addition and upgrades to athletic facilities.

Last year, a committee identified several district needs, but some were postponed because of the tax impact, Tadlock said.

Some involved in the process thought it would be better to do all the renovations at once, Tadlock said, but district officials and the school board decided to approach them in phases.

In April 2015, residents approved a referendum for $20.42 million in improvements to safety, technology programs, capital maintenance and space to handle increasing enrollment.

Now, interest rates are low, which means borrowing is financially easier. Even with last year's referendum, the school property tax levy decreased. That will help the district address remaining needs, Tadlock said.

Tadlock said the new referendum fits into the district's philosophy of preparing students for all post-secondary options: a four-year degree, technical school or the work world.

Adding the greenhouse, for example, fits that model, he said.

“It will enable our agricultural finances program to learn and understand how to use the modern greenhouse and take advantage of that to learn additional aspects of the agri-finance field, which is really booming all over the place,” Tadlock said.

Market Street will be built in 2017-18 regardless of the referendum’s outcome, Tadlock said. The district owns a portion of the land where the street will be expanded, meaning the district still has to pay its share of the project.

If the district does not buy the remaining land near the street now, it will “soon be divided in a way that will not be as conducive to school use in the future,” according to the district's website.

“It is not often that schools have land available for purchase adjacent to their property,” according to the website. “If we do not purchase the land now, we will be landlocked.”

The high school has nearly doubled since the field space was originally established, so Tadlock said it's appropriate for the district to buy the land.

Voters also will see a second referendum on the ballot. It asks for $300,000 in operational funding on an annually recurring basis to pay for maintenance, staffing and equipment.

If the first referendum is approved, construction would begin next spring.

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