Our Views: Parkview School District plan deserves to pass

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Friday, March 28, 2014

Drive west the dozen miles from Janesville to Orfordville, and you’ll spot bright blue signs, big and small, dotting the countryside. They advocate “yes” votes in Tuesday’s Parkview School District referendum.

You might not see “vote no” signs. None were spotted Tuesday. Superintendent Steve Lutzke and buildings and grounds director Jeff Lund said Tuesday they hadn’t observed any in the district.

That might bode well for Tuesday’s two-part referendum. Part one seeks $17 million to expand and renovate Orfordville’s schools. Part two seeks $350,000 in each of the next three years to soften projected deficits. Both merit support, but advocates can’t be overconfident. Residents rejected four of the last five referendums, including two to build a new high school. In 2012, the district wanted $5 million to expand Orfordville Elementary.

That referendum’s failure was no surprise.

Enter Parkview High School, and you’ll think you’re in a time warp. Ceilings are low, and much of the lighting is dim. Locker rooms are tiny. Small restrooms have exposed plumbing and lack handicapped accessibility. The little cafeteria is unattractive. The kitchen has old equipment and exposed pipes contrary to sanitation rules. Only padding on support pillars behind and too close to each hoop keeps basketball players from injury.

At public presentations, residents called the school “embarrassing.” Lund understands, but he admits the comments hurt because his crew does its best to keep it clean and serviceable.

Most residents know that the high school has the district’s most pressing needs. That’s largely why they rejected the 2012 proposal.

Planners took public sentiment to heart, but they realized that sinking almost $30 million into building a new high school is unreasonable in this economy and wouldn’t solve elementary school problems.

Tuesday’s plan would move all students to Orfordville, closing Footville’s school, and reverse the two Orfordville schools. The change could create efficiencies and ease traffic flow. Orfordville Elementary would be greatly expanded and renovated to become the high school and junior high. The high school and junior high would be upgraded to house elementary kids.

The work would erase $7 million in maintenance needs and position the district so officials foresee no other building referendum for at least 20 years. Three-fourths of the junior high and high school would look and feel new. Science, agriculture and technology labs would be new, as would an expanded library and band and choir rooms. A new three-station gym would bolster phy-ed classes and athletics. New boilers would replace troublesome, inefficient ones; the schools would get air conditioning, and students would learn in the comforts of a modern world.

The plan is not excessive. It includes no pool or auditorium. Residents can learn many more details at www.parkview.k12.wi.us.

Despite the lack of signs, the plan has critics. They suggest fixing current buildings or merging with neighboring districts. A merger isn’t so simple. Most surrounding districts have higher property tax rates. Merging would mean current that Parkview residents pay those rates. While Brodhead’s rate is lower, it’s doubtful that Brodhead could absorb all Parkview kids without expensive expansions. Besides, many Parkview kids would endure untenably long bus rides.

Critics argue that jobs are scarce, that owners can’t sell their homes and that higher taxes will make sales even tougher. Quality schools, however, are a top priority for people looking to relocate. We understand and sympathize with the hardship that higher taxes might cause some residents. But if both referendum parts pass, the tax increase on a $100,000 home is $360—less than $1 a day, and that declines in later years. The property tax relief bill that Gov. Walker signed Monday would trim Parkview’s increase by a third.

No simple solution can solve Parkview’s facility and financial shortcomings. But improving schools is a smart investment. It builds pride and could stem the outflow of students through open enrollment. Some of the 100 district kids learning elsewhere might return.

Quality schools are vital to a quality community. Past generations had the vision to invest in our children’s education. Keeping up with changing educational needs requires regular investments. Good schools help attract economic development. More important, they show our youngsters that we value their education.

Tuesday’s plan is reasonable and deserves to pass.

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