Turner districts forming committee to discuss new high school

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Saturday, June 30, 2012
— The Beloit Turner School District is forming an ad-hoc committee to discuss a timeline for building a new high school and bringing a referendum to voters, which could be as soon as spring 2013, Superintendent Dennis McCarthy said.

The discussion should not be a surprise to residents because the district has been talking about such plans for about five years and in May 2011 bought land for a project behind the current high school, he said.

McCarthy and the school board president are whittling a list of about 40 people to about 15. They hope the committee will be ready to meet in August, he said.

A November referendum is unlikely, he said, because the committee needs to research a timeline and the impact on the community and do some long-range planning.

The district's population has held "pretty solid" through the recession, while the number of students open enrolling into the district continues to grow, he said. The district has 200 students on an open enrollment waiting list for this fall.

"We feel that in moving forward, we can support a larger system, certainly," McCarthy said. "Financially, open enrollment is a big positive for us."

Turner netted 125 students in the last school year, bringing in $800,000 outside the revenue cap. That provides support and expanded student opportunities that wouldn't normally be there, he said.

If the district could accept all 200 students on the waiting list, it would bring in an additional $1.5 million not impacted by revenue caps, he said.

As state funds shrink, "that's something we have to consider as a district," McCarthy said, "because those financial opportunities mean more opportunities for our students—things we can offer that other districts are cutting."

The district plans to add about 20 students at sixth grade in fall. This year's graduating class was about 85, while classes coming out of the middle school are 120 and up.

The high school had about 385 students five years ago and now has the potential to be nearly 480 students within two to three years, he said.

Each grade from kindergarten through fifth has four classes, but in long-range planning, the district would like to expand to five classes per grade, he said. If it became a "five-track system," as it's called, it could support an additional 15 to 20 students at the lower grade levels, he said.

"As a whole, I don't think we want to see our system take on 200 kids just like that," he said.

But bringing in money from outside the system is important, he said.

Based on planning started five years ago, a new high school would allow the current middle and high schools to serve grades three through eight. Townview Elementary could become an early childhood center, while Powers Elementary would be first and second grade with two additional classrooms at each grade.

More students means more staff. If a new teacher is hired for 20 new students, the open enrollment income pays for the teacher's salary and benefits with about $60,000 in additional revenue to support programming, McCarthy said.

He hears from residents who say, "Do you really want to build a school for open enrollment students?"

That's a legitimate question, he said.

Without open enrollment, Turner would be cutting teachers like every other district, he said. He points to what the district has been able to do recently.

Four years ago, only 10 more students were coming in than going out. Back then, only three Advanced Placement classes were offered, while seven will be offered in the next school year.

Two years ago, about 50 students were taking AP courses. More than 140 are signed up next year.

Construction on a $1.2 million renovation of the track facility will be completed this year, and much of the project was paid for through open enrollment revenue, he said.

Last updated: 8:41 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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