MILTON — Classrooms remain crowded, enrollment continues to rise and, just like a year ago, the Milton School District is back with a referendum to build a new high school.
Only this time around the plan is less expensive, a bit smaller and is the only item on the Nov. 7 ballot.
Officials in this Rock County community are hopeful that the changes and the timing will be enough to persuade voters to approve a $69.9 million question. The plan would convert the existing high school to a middle school, and the middle school to an intermediate school, and reconfigure the grades in the district’s four elementary schools. In November 2016, an $87 million plan was defeated by 287 votes out of 10,895 ballots cast.
“I feel really good about the district-wide solution,” said Superintendent Tim Schigur. “I feel very good about the compromises we made to bring the costs down but not changing the essence of the solution. We have such needs and the cost isn’t getting any cheaper.”
Milton is one of only nine districts in Wisconsin with referendum questions on the Nov. 7 ballot.
The Princeton School District in Green Lake County is asking voters for permission to exceed state spending limits by $475,000 a year over each of the next four years.
In the Iowa County district of Barneveld, voters are being asked two questions.
A $12.9 million proposal would remove parts of the school built in 1900, 1934 and 1954 and replace it with a two-story elementary school while also adding a cafeteria and music and art rooms. Another question asks for $3.4 million to expand the gymnasium and build an industrial art STEM addition. If both questions are approved, it would add $554 annually to the tax bill of a $200,000 property, according to district estimates.
In the Beloit Turner School District, a $26.8 million proposal, if approved, would result in a new elementary school and provide for an addition and renovation at the high school.
The Milton proposal is the largest in the state but did not receive unanimous approval from the School Board when it was approved for the ballot in August. In a 5-1 vote, with one board member absent, Brian Kvapil, an outspoken critic of the 2016 referendum but who was not on the School Board at that time, cast the lone objection to the 2017 plan going to a vote.
“I just don’t think we’re there yet,” Kvapil told the Janesville Gazette at the time. “There are still a lot of questions unanswered.”
The School Board has reduced its costs on the 2017 plan by spending $5 million out of its operations budget to address accessibility and security concerns at a number of buildings. The new high school would also be about 20,000 square feet smaller and more cinder blocks instead of brick would be used, which has further reduced the costs, Schigur said.
If approved, taxes for the owner of a $200,000 piece of property would increase by $292 a year, according to district estimates.
The new high school, which would be built next to the existing facility and include a pool, would ease crowding, improve academic programming for high school students and create space for future growth.
The district, with a record 3,492 students, has seen its enrollment increase by 22 percent in the past 15 years, including the addition of 125 students in the past three years. Much of that growth has come not from the city of Milton, but from the city of Janesville, where what was once farmland now represents 30 percent of Milton School District’s enrollment and 33 percent of its valuation, Schigur said.
“People don’t realize how big we really are,” Schigur said.
Under the plan, the middle school (now grades 7-8) would move to the existing high school and include grades 6-8. The middle school and Northside Intermediate (now 4-6) would both house third- through fifth-grade students, while the elementary schools would house students up to second grade.
Some of the biggest relief would be felt at the middle school level. The existing facility is overcrowded and many of its rooms for core programs and activities are also outdated. Special education programming has taken over the consumer and family education room, a former boys locker room is used for foreign language classes and choir practice, while the band room, originally designed for 60 students, now holds over 100 students and is not accessible for those with disabilities, unless the musician is a percussionist.
A small room near the main office that had been used for teacher mailboxes and the copy machine was converted last week to a special education room. The school has four lunch periods because the cafeteria is too small to handle the bulging enrollment.
Principal Matt Biederwolf, who taught middle school for eight years, said if the referendum is approved it will improve education across the board for middle school students.
“It gives us more space for programming. We’re using space that was never designed for instruction,” Biederwolf said. “We don’t need a Taj Mahal. We just need space.”