Janesville73.7°

Milton taking 'wait and see' approach on new high school

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Stacy Vogel
October 7, 2008
— What a difference a year makes.

A year ago, the Milton School Board was putting together a team to design proposals for a new high school.


Kennedy Homes and Preferred Homes still were planning to build about 1,000 homes each in the Milton School District.


And General Motors employees still were planning on turning out vehicles at the Janesville plant for the foreseeable future.


All that has changed, and so has discussion of a district referendum.


The board spent an hour Monday discussing where to go next, three months after the design team presented a plan for a $69.4 million high school. The plan includes an additional $7.3 million to convert the existing high school into a middle school.


Most board members agreed that now is not the time to ask taxpayers for that kind of money.


"If we went to referendum now, I personally say there's no way in hell it would pass," board member Al Roehl said.


Board members suggested dates ranging from April 2009 to three or four years in the future for the referendum, but most seemed to agree with Bob Cullen when he suggested waiting to see enrollment numbers next September.


Enrollment dropped by seven students this year, Superintendent Bernie Nikolay said. For the last three years, the district had been growing by about 100 students a year.


The district could see a bigger drop next year if General Motors closes, causing thousands of layoffs there and at local suppliers.


But at the same time, some schools already are full, board member Wilson Leong said. The middle school is crowded, and those students will be in high school soon, he said.


"I'd hate to see us take a step backwards, especially when we're dealing with making sure our kids and our staff and our community are what we're all about," he said.


On the opposite end of the spectrum, Roehl said the district has to wait until the economy rebounds to go to referendum. It could be three or four years before that happens, he said.


Board President Rob Roy said he doesn't think the district will have to wait that long, but it should wait until people are more optimistic.


"We have to wait until the panic and fear is gone," he said.


Meanwhile, the board can continue to refine its plan so it's ready to go when the board schedules a referendum, Roy said. The first step will come Oct. 27, when the board will discuss the design team's suggestion to change the intermediate school structure. The design team suggested switching the intermediate school from fourth-through-sixth grades to third-through-fifth grades once the new high school is built.


"We need to do the groundwork now," Roy said.


TO BE CONSIDERED

Dianne Meyer, business manager for the Milton School District, gave the school board a list of things to consider Monday when discussing the timing of a possible referendum:


-- The school's official enrollment count showed a drop of seven students this year.


-- Financial markets are insecure. It's difficult to borrow money. For example, the district received only two bids for its short-term, cash-flow borrowing when it usually receives six or seven.


-- The Kennedy Homes and Preferred Homes projects have been stopped.


-- General Motors and its suppliers are laying off staff and possibly closing their doors.


-- Families are feeling the effects of the economy in food, gas, income and other aspects.


-- The November elections could affect the economy and schools.


-- The price of building materials continues to rise. If the district waits to build a new high school, it will cost more.


-- Elementary classrooms are full, as are many classrooms at other levels.



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