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School districts put construction referendums in front of voters

By Dan Shaw

New Village Municipal Complex, on a site between Nash and Olk Streets, HortonvilleConstruct Additions to Walls and Construct New Walls for Fire Safety Purposes for the Northland Pines School District, Eagle River

New Elementary School for the Whitehall School District, 19121 Hobson St., Whitehall

Additions, Remodeling and Renovations to Schools in the Rice Lake School District, Rice Lake

Major Remodeling Projects for the Iron Mountain Public Schools, Iron Mountain, Mich.

Rice Lake Area School District officials are asking residents Tuesday to vote in favor of a plan that would allow them to make what they deem as much-needed improvements to three schools.

An approval of the plan would give the northwest Wisconsin district permission to issue $20.42 million in bonds for the project, the largest debt amount being voted on in Wisconsin referendums Tuesday. Paying down that debt is expected to cost property owners in the district another 82 cents for every $1,000 of their homes’ assessed value.

The proposal is one of several affecting property taxes to go before voters Tuesday. The Whitehall School District in the west-central part of Wisconsin, the Northland Pines School District in the north and the village of Hortonville in the east-central part are likewise asking for public approval of construction projects.

Referendums on school projects have had mixed results recently. Last year, voters defeated an improvement proposal put forward by the Oregon School District, just south of Madison, while approving another put together by the Sparta Area School District, in west-central Wisconsin.

In the case of the Rice Lake district’s proposal this year, Larry Brown, district superintendent, said he isn’t willing to speculate about what the outcome will be. He said school officials have dedicated quite a bit of time informing the public about the plan.

“We are hearing a lot of positive comments,” he said. “And, we are hearing some concerns from people.”

If approved, the referendum would allow Rice Lake officials to build an addition to the district’s high school and renovate and remodel parts of it, improving science, technology and agricultural rooms and equipment; remodel and expand the middle school and make a bus drop-area safer; and remodel and expand Tainter Elementary School. Another school in the district, Jefferson Elementary, no longer would be used for classroom education; its new purpose still is undecided.

The Whitehall district, meanwhile, wants to build an addition to its high school that will replace two older buildings, a kindergarten dating to the 1920s and an elementary school built in 1962. Mike Beighley, Whitehall superintendent, said the proposal’s main goal is to provide more classroom space to the 760 students.

He said officials also want to improve efficiency by having more of the buildings standing on the same site.

To pay for the project, the district wants to issue a $12.5 million bond that would be paid off over 20 years. Doing that would cost homeowners another $1.16 per $1,000 of the assessed value of their homes in the first year of the bond and another $2.32 per $1,000 every year after that.

Beighley said the last school referendum in the district was in 1991 and sought approval for an expansion of the high school. He said it was overwhelmingly successful and expressed hope the outcome will be similar this time.

Here is what is being proposed in other coming referendums:

• The Northland Pines School District is asking voters to let it exceed state revenue limits by $2.7 million so it can maintain school district programs and operations. It also is asking for permission to exceed the revenue limits by $240,000 to build fire safety walls.

• The village of Hortonville is asking voters to let it issue about $2.9 million in bonds to build a municipal complex that includes a library, police department, court, administrative offices and common space.

• In Michigan, voters in the Iron Mountain Public School District will go to the polls Feb. 26 to vote on a proposal that would allow school officials to issue $9.5 million in bonds to remodel, equip and furnish school buildings. In general, the improvements would replace the district’s security, heating, lighting and technology systems and improve its classrooms and playgrounds.

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