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Edgerton schools ponder referendum

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NEIL W. JOHNSON
December 13, 2011
— Edgerton residents could see a school referendum on the ballot in November, Edgerton School District officials say.

Discussions are in infancy between district officials and the Edgerton School Board over a possible referendum to exceed levy limits, but district officials are saying a referendum could help the district pay for capital projects and building repairs, technology upgrades and a refinance of district debt linked to employee pensions.


Superintendent Dennis Pauli said talks are so early that the district has no estimate on the size of the possible referendum.


Under tentative plans, the district and the board would first assemble a priority list of district needs and then ready a survey presenting those needs and their costs to residents.


Ultimately, the board would have to decide based on the district's needs and the community's appetite for spending whether to pursue referendum.


That process could take months, but Pauli said the board would have to decide by summer whether to ready a referendum question for the November ballot.


Pauli said a major reason the district is considering a referendum stems from cuts to the district's maintenance budget over the last five years. He said those cuts have meant putting off some building repairs and maintenance.


"We're finding a lot of maintenance issues were deferred," Pauli said.


Some necessary large items such as roof replacements or parking lot work wouldn't fit into an annual maintenance budget, Pauli said.


Examples include replacement of fire alarm and intercom systems at some of the district's schools, work that could cost $140,000, according to district estimates. Other possible work, such as removing asbestos tiles from a hallway and a gym at Edgerton Community Elementary, could cost $40,000.


"That's a big-ticket item," Pauli said.


The board's building and grounds committee last week viewed extensive master lists of possible repair and maintenance projects. The lists are part of a five-year district capital improvement plan.


Some of the lists have large price tags, such as scheduled roof work that could total more than $3 million. But that list details five years of roof work, and not all of the work would have to be done at once or paid for through referendum, Pauli said.


Pauli said the district is having consultants test the age and condition of roofs, windows and other building components. He said the board in coming weeks would have to narrow the scope of priority projects to a list of five or fewer items per school.


"We'd work to narrow it down so that we don't have 75 items," Pauli said.


Similarly, the district is working on a list of possible computer and technology upgrades in some of its schools. Pauli said the board start discussing those projects in January.


The district's last large-scale technology spending came in 2005, Pauli said.


Another issue the district and the board could examine for possible referendum spending is a looming giant—its pension debt.


According to district figures, the district owes $3 million to the Wisconsin Retirement System, the state fund that pays out public school employee pensions.


The district is eyeing options, including a referendum, to refinance that debt. The goal is to lessen interest payments that are now at about 8 percent. That would help the district pay off the debt.


Last year, the district paid down $130,000 of the debt but was $70,000 short of the full payment needed.


"It's kind of like a credit card. We're making a minimum payment and still charging on it," said Mark Worthing, the district's business manager.


The board Monday night approved hiring Slinger-based consultant School Perceptions for $9,200. The company could help the district produce a survey that would be mailed and emailed to all district residents.


The survey would outline spending priorities for a possible referendum and would break down cost estimates for potential repair and technology projects for each building. It would also give a full cost for a referendum.


Pauli said the goal of the survey would be to learn if residents would support the district going to referendum and what items or projects residents would want to see on a referendum.


According to district estimates, a survey would cost about $10,000.


Pauli said it could take the district until early spring to decide what to put on the survey, but the goal would be to have it sent to residents by March or April.



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