Milton schools reviewing its school buildings

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Neil Johnson
December 4, 2013

MILTON—The Milton School District is quietly analyzing student headcounts, classroom space and use at each of its eight district schools.

But school board officials seem leery to say what the district is trying to learn, and how the information could be used.

The board last month asked school-level administrators and the district central office to pull together a “statistical” inventory of district schools, including how classroom space is being used in each school, and what needs each school sees for extracurricular activities. 

Superintendent Tim Schigur said the study would be a “healthy” first step toward learning how school spaces are used and whether district needs are being met.

“Right now, the board has asked us to look at our facility uses, the amount of space used daily and hourly,” he said. “Do we have empty classrooms? What is the facility use after school by our own (extracurricular) groups, sports groups, community groups? What are our true needs? It's kind of updating the facility usage from what it was five or six years ago.”

The schools inventory, which will take about six to eight weeks to complete, could be used to form an ad hoc school board committee or to hire a consultant for recommendations on the district's short- and long-term facility needs and how to satisfy them, Schigur said.

This marks the first time the district has conducted such an analysis since it began planning for a new $60 million to $80 million high school in 2007. Those plans were shelved amid a recession that decimated the local economy and halted residential growth in the district.

Since then, the district has begun to see stabilizing enrollment and even crowding in classrooms, particularly in some of its elementary schools and at its intermediate school, where class sizes had approached 30 students last year, according to district records.

Schigur said the schools inventory is not an immediate precursor to a referendum on building any new schools, including a new high school. He did acknowledge that the 50-year-old high school has upcoming needs, including repairs to its swimming pool that could be a “seven-figure remodel.”

Schigur said the inventory is less about the physical condition of the schools and more about available space and needs.

“When General Motors closed in 2009, there was fear that there would be a lot of families leaving, and the Pre-K coming in has more than offset the amount of kids that left. We haven't had that cliff of loss that was kind of feared,” he said.

“The question became, do we have a enough space for all we're looking do academically? Have needs changed even though the enrollment has plateaued?”

Schigur said the district also wants an inventory on available space for activities and programs.

“Are we turning down a lot of groups because we don't have the facilities to offer events, whether it's extracurriculars or plays or other things?” he said.

Schigur said the inventory would not be a step towards closing Consolidated Elementary School, a small, rural school just north of Janesville that has been on the district's chopping block a few times in the last decade.

In the past, district officials viewed closing Consolidated as a way to shrink projected budget gaps. But Schigur said district analyses showed the $100,000 in savings through closing the school would not be great enough to offset the cost of busing the school's 90 students elsewhere.

He said student enrollment at Consolidated, like other schools in the district, has “stabilized” and no one's talking about closing the school.

“Talk of closing Consolidated is gone,” Schigur said. “No matter what the (schools) inventory shows, we're gonna move beyond that piece. We need that school. It serves a population out on the corner of our district, and it provides a value of service.”

Whatever the results of the schools inventory, it'll be up to the board how to use them, Schigur said.

“This will give them insight for how to move forward,” he said. “I'll let the board decide how to interpret it. We'll collect the information and it will be the board's decision on what to do with it.”

Board members have been reluctant to discuss if there are any underlying reasons for an in-house study, or whether it could be linked to a future referendum.

Last fall, board members including Wilson Leong and Rob Roy brought up a possible referendum for a new high school, but that talk quieted down amid projected district budget problems and staffing issues, including the mid-year departure of then-Superintendent Mike Garrow.

Jon Cruzan, one board member who pushed for the schools inventory, according to reports, declined to talk about what the board seeks to learn from the study, and how it could use the information in the future.

In a phone message, Cruzan said that, for now, detailed comment on the inventory should “roll back” to Schigur and district administration, not the board.

School board President Betsy Lubke released a statement on the issue, saying the board could use the study for future "strategic planning."

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