Milton will attempt new school referendum Nov. 7

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Jim Dayton
Tuesday, August 15, 2017

MILTON—The Milton School District is officially ready for another shot at a new high school.

The school board Monday approved a new referendum question for a facility proposal not to exceed $69.9 million. It also approved an election date—Nov. 7.

Both measures passed by a 5-1 vote, with board member Brian Kvapil providing the lone dissent. Don Vruwink was absent.

Although the election will occur on the customary first Tuesday of November election date, it will be considered a special election because no other races are scheduled. The district will have to pay an undetermined amount for ballots but plans to keep all district polling locations open, District Administrator Tim Schigur said.

Last November, district voters narrowly rejected an $87 million plan to build a new high school and upgrade other facilities. The rejection set off a lengthy revision process that culminated in Monday's vote.

The district has shaved $17 million off the price tag by reducing the size of the proposed high school, using different building materials and limiting work at East Elementary to an 8,000-square-foot addition.

“I think it's been good for us to take a step back, reflect on the first go-round, listen and look to all the questions that were proposed. And we've answered them,” Schigur said. “We've taken the recommendations and incorporated them into a solution.”

Kvapil disagreed. He praised administrators for whittling down the financial terms, but he wanted to see more details.

“I just don't think we're there yet," he said. "There are still a lot of questions unanswered.”

Kvapil was an outspoken opponent of last year's referendum, which happened before he was elected to the school board. He believed the $69.9 million proposal had a “50-50” chance of approval.

His estimate was speculative and based on talking to district residents. He said he thought the district should not try another referendum unless it had a high likelihood of approval.

Board President Bob Cullen said the board needed to come up with a smart facility solution, not spend time speculating on approval chances.

Kvapil proposed a motion to modify the new facility proposal to a $50 million cost and prohibit future referendums until the district raised $20 million from sources besides the tax levy.

His motion failed to gain a second.

Schigur explained the board could not legally prevent future boards from going to referendum.

Estimates for the new proposal show the owner of a $100,000 home would pay $146 in additional property taxes. Baird, a financial consultant, used conservative projections to reach that number, Schigur said.

The board discussed, but did not select, financing options based on Baird's estimates, including a 20-year loan and a 26-year loan.

Kvapil called the uncertainty a “red flag” for voters, but Schigur explained locking in a financing plan could eliminate creative financing strategies and hurt the district.

“No district answers that question prior to any referendum. If people are unhappy with that uncertainty, that's the way the system is,” Schigur said. “(Districts) want to have the flexibility to borrow in the ways that allow it to be at that price or less.”

In other business, the board approved a $35,000 traffic impact study and recommended hiring an owner's representative—a liaison between school officials and contractors—who would only be hired if the referendum is approved.

Schigur also unveiled a plan to use the current middle school as a home for some intermediate students if a new high school is built.

But the referendum was the highlight Monday night.

“The administration did a lot of work to meet the charge the board gave them back in January,” Cullen said. “It's an exciting time to see how the community will accept this plan.”

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