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Building referendums on Tuesday’s ballots

The Verona Area School District is seeking nearly $162.8 million from voters next week in what will most likely be the largest building referendum on record in the state.

School officials hope that when voters head to the polls on Tuesday, they will give their blessing to plans to issue debt for the construction of a new high school and auditorium, renovate the existing high school and Badger Ridge Middle School and make various other district-wide improvements.

According to the district’s website, the work is needed largely to accommodate growth in the student body. The district’s enrollment has increased by more than 600 students since its latest new school opened in 2006. And the crowding will only become worse as time goes by. By 2030, district officials expect to be working with more than 1,500 additional students.

Officials at the Verona district could not be immediately reached for comment.

The mere appearance of the Verona referendum on the ballot, whether it is approved or not, has marked a milestone. According to Department of Public Instruction data, it will be the largest construction-related referendum to be presented to voters since 2000.

Yet, although its dollar figure may make it the standout, the Verona referendum will be just one of 65 school district questions up for a vote on Tuesday, according to the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction.

For all the referendums appearing on the ballot next week, the asking total comes to nearly $965 million. (Some of the plans, though, call for the money to be borrowed in a series of yearly installments rather than all at once.)

Beyond seeking money for new construction, district officials are looking to cover schools’ operating expenses. The Green Bay Area Public School District, for instance, has a two-part referendum of their own on voters’ ballots on Tuesday. The referendum questions include not only a roughly $68 million proposal for district-wide improvements but also a request to exceed state-imposed revenue limits by $165 million over 10 years to maintain educational programming.

The building referendum would cover the costs of adding onto elementary and middle school buildings, reconstructing Baird Elementary School, installing secure entrances at seven schools and performing other renovations.

“The facility part (of the referendum) is really to address the immediate needs of our district,” said Lori Blakeslee, director of communications for the school district.

Baird Elementary, for its part, was built in the 1960s as an “open-concept” school. Blakeslee said the building is laid out in the shape of a honeycomb and can accommodate no more than 300 students.

The new school, which will go up next to Baird Elementary, will be able to serve 600 students at a time. That will let it offer classes to the more than 400 elementary-school students in the area, as well as those enrolled in pre-Kindergarten classes now being held at other sites.

Blakeslee said that the school-district referendums have for the most part elicited support from residents.

“I think they understand there is a need,” she said.

While school district officials argue these — often expensive — projects are needed to replace old buildings and pave the way for student bodies that keep getting bigger, not everyone is comfortable with the sheer number of referendums that voters are being asked to approve on election days.

Some Republican lawmakers say school districts ask for too much additional money, and are seeking to rein in referendums in a package of bills now being circulated. Among the proposals are ones that would prevent districts from asking voters to raise taxes permanently and cause districts to lose state funding if they bring in more money through property taxes than is allowed by state-imposed revenue limits.

About Alex Zank, alex.zank@dailyreporter.com

Alex Zank is a construction reporter for The Daily Reporter. He can be reached at 414-225-1820.

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