Frequently Asked Questions – April 6, 2021 Referendum

Why wasn’t the auditorium part of the one-campus referendum?

At the August 24, 2020 Board of Education meeting, two resolutions were brought forward. One was for the one-campus district and the other was for the auditorium. The school board had a detailed discussion, which included multiple factors facing the community, and passed the one-campus resolution. The auditorium resolution was not passed. The board decided to continue looking into the feasibility of the auditorium for consideration in the spring election (April 6, 2021).

After much discussion and feedback from community members, on January 25, 2021, the board voted to move forward with the auditorium resolution.

Why should the auditorium be considered now?

With the one campus referendum passing in November of 2020, further discussions have occurred to determine the feasibility of adding the auditorium.

The construction will begin in spring to add the elementary wing to the existing MS/HS building. By adding the auditorium at the same time, the district would save money and reduce disruptions. The equipment and construction crews would be on-site and interest rates are low to borrow the money. If we wait, the cost to bring the equipment and crews back would be incurred and interest rates may change. It’s estimated that in 5 years it would cost the district roughly $2,263,000.00 than building it in 2021-22. This does not include the possible increase in interest in 5 years.

Looking beyond the cost savings, we would be investing in our performing arts studies. The auditorium would provide a safe and ADA compliant experience for the participants and audience. Our community will also benefit from having an auditorium to utilize for performances, speakers, events, and more.

What is the tax impact of the $7,500,000 auditorium referendum?

It is estimated that the Average Mill Rate Impact will be around $0.47 (per $1,000 property valuation). What does that mean? On a home that has a fair market value of $200,000, the average annual impact would be around $94.00, making the monthly impact around $7.84.

Due to COVID, now may not be the best time to ask another referendum question.  Can you explain why it’s being asked for now?

It may be helpful to understand the difference between an operating referendum and bond referendum:

  • Operating – recurring or non-recurring; the first one was introduced at WHSD in 2007.  It was unsuccessful in 2007 and 2008.  In 2009, an operating referendum was approved.
    Dollars from an operating referendum help the district to operate on a day-to-day basis.  The majority of districts in WI are operating under operational referendums because of state imposed revenue caps.

In 2019, a 5 year operating referendum was passed for 2.2 million dollars per year. This meant that for 5 years, the school district would hold to no increase in the portion of the operating budget that was funded by the non-recurring operating referendum.

  • Bond/capital referendum – borrowing for capital improvements or facility projects.  The bond referendum that was approved by the community in November of 2020 represented Wisconsin Heights first successful capital referendum since 1994.

As explained in a previous question, the board had many discussions about the auditorium referendum and prioritized it against other needs.  The timing was discussed as well as the savings that could be had if the project was done at the same time as the one campus work.  It was estimated that concurrent construction of the auditorium vs. waiting five years would result in over 2 million dollars of expenses.  Ultimately, it is up to the voters to determine if this moves forward.  The auditorium is on the April 6, 2021 ballot for the Heights community to vote.

If the referendum passes, could the school board decide to not move forward with construction?

If the referendum is passed by the community voters, it is the school board’s responsibility to move forward with what was approved.

How many years is the loan term for the borrowing?

20 years

What is the projected maintenance cost per year and will there be a need for additional staff?

The district worked with PSI on what they see other districts paying for operational costs of an auditorium.  On the high end, where the space is utilized at full capacity, the cost is approximately $25k annually.

There would be no additional staffing for the auditorium.  With the transition to one campus, we will utilize existing staff. For any technical needs to run equipment, the plan is to train staff internally as well as groups in the community.

What are the benefits of the auditorium to the students?

36 items were shared by staff members for potential district use. That is a relatively significant number. The benefit to all students, not just the arts. Anticipated District Usage/Potential Community Usage

How are building material increases going to affect the cost projections? 

Whenever a referendum passes, the district cannot borrow more than what was approved.  For the auditorium, would not borrow more than what is passed ($7,500,000).

This estimate was prepared in January 2021. PSI has extensive experience in design/build projects and carefully tracks and estimates the cost of building supplies. They use their expertise and experience to prepare estimates for the referendum question.

Then, if approved, there will be a detailed design process completed where cost-effective decisions can be made. For example, wood and steel are known to be current volatile commodities. Therefore, to be cost-effective and meet the building characteristics, concrete panels may be used to reduce the amount of wood and steel on the project.

Because of its careful estimating and design processes, combined with experience, PSI stands behind its estimates. The final project will then be competitively bid to achieve a cost-effective price. There will not be an increase in the cost of the project passed onto the community. However, please note with all this said, no contracts or requests for bids will be completed until the district has the approval of the referendum question from the voters.

Is it possible to do the auditorium seating in phases to start with a smaller size and grow?

There are concerns with phasing the seating, the way an auditorium is designed, there isn’t an easy way to build 250 seats then add more later.

Can state funding or federal stimulus money be used to pay for the debts incurred with the referendums? 

The district cannot use Federal stimulus dollars for the project or pay down debt; that money needs to be applied to qualifying costs. The Federal stimulus dollars for COVID are to be used  for unanticipated/increased costs due to the pandemic.

Governor Evers budget proposal represents a significant investment in state funding for school districts throughout the state.  However, until the executive and legislative branches of our state government agree to a budget, it is difficult to know how much additional state funding schools will receive.

If grants or other donations were received, how would that impact the tax/mill rate?  

The district is asking for $7.5M taxing authority, that does not mean that we have to borrow that much if there are other fundraising efforts.

It’s estimated that for every $160,000 raised or donated, the mill rate would decrease by $.01.

Was there any fundraising done prior to putting the referendum on the April 2021 ballot?

The Community Arts Group has talked about trying to raise dollars to support and minimize costs.  They shared with the board that many of the avenues they looked at indicated they won’t approve funds unless there is a project approved. If the auditorium referendum passes, the group will begin applying for grants and look for fundraising opportunities.

What percentage of state funding does Wisconsin Heights receive compared to other area school districts?

State Aid per district:

  • Middleton-Cross Plains – 21.5%
  • Wisconsin Heights – 22%
  • Verona – 28%
  • River Valley – 37.3%
  • Sauk Prairie – 45.4%
  • Mt. Horeb – 58.4%

If Governor Evers restores 2/3 funding to Wisconsin public schools, will that assist the district in operating expenses beyond what is already received?

At this point, WHSD is only funded 22% by the state.

Some highlights of the Governor’s Proposal

  • Supports ⅔ funding (that does not mean WSHD will suddenly receive ⅔ of its funding from the state)
  • Increase in revenue limit authority
  • Increases low revenue ceiling
  • Increase the hold harmless threshold from 85% to 90%
  • Pupil counts – greater of 2019 or 2020 pupil count
  • Special Ed Aid – Raise reimbursement rates to 45% & 50% over the biennium
  • Additional Specialized Aids

Does the design take into consideration a pandemic situation?

The district is planning for the future, not solely focusing on the current restrictions of the pandemic.

If the current $2.2 million operating referendum doesn’t cover increased operating expenses during the 5-year period, will another operating referendum be introduced?

No, that has never entered into the discussion.

What is the cost comparison between Wisconsin Heights and local districts on per-student spend?

Multi-district Cost Comparison:

  • Middleton-Cross Plains $12,500
  • Mt. Horeb $13,110
  • Sauk-Prairie $13,798
  • River Valley $14,228
  • WHSD $14,763
  • Verona $14,849

Are there revenue possibilities with the auditorium?

Revenue to the district – a fee would be charged for outside organizations to utilize the space.

Revenue to the community – people tend to spend time and money in the towns when coming to the auditorium.

If the vote does not pass, what are the alternative plans? 

The school board will have to consider a variety of options:

  • Attempt to improve the existing stage, seating, etc. with operational dollars
  • Consider another referendum attempt in future years
  • Brainstorm other options for improving the current space

What are the plans for the auditorium?

The image below represents the current proposed layout of the auditorium. It will have 500 seats with an orchestra pit. There will be two dressing rooms, a scene shop, a sound booth, and a light booth. In addition, two additional restrooms will be available.