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Voters to go to polls for 66 school referendums Tuesday

Schools around Wisconsin will ask voters to approve $667.2 million in building projects and spending Tuesday.

The biggest request in Wisconsin comes from the Chippewa Falls Area School District, which wants $65 million for building improvements, including a new $21.1 million elementary school. It’s the second referendum the district has had in two years after a pair of requests totaling nearly $160 million failed in November 2016.

Wisconsin taxpayers are being asked to approve less spending in total in this cycle’s crop of 66 school referendums than they had been in recent elections.

In November 2016, for instance, school districts around the state asked voters for $1.3 billion in building projects and operating costs — marking what was likely the largest total ever. During the previous election, in April, districts asked for $853.2 million, the second-largest amount, according to data from the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction.

A $59 million referendum at the DC Everest Area School District, in Weston, would pay for a district-wide overhaul of classrooms, security systems and other infrastructure at the district’s properties, which date back a half-century in many cases, said Superintendent Kristine Gilmore. If the proposal passed, the owner of a $100,000 home in the district would pay another $24 worth of property taxes a year.

The referendum also includes $10 million to outfit the district’s high school with equipment needed to train students for trade careers like auto maintenance, metals, agriculture, construction and others.

Prominent businesses have taken out advertising in support of the referendum as a pervasive worker shortage lingers throughout much of the state, making it hard for companies to find skilled labor, Gilmore said.

Gilmore said she’s hopeful the referendum will pass. Still, the election could face another obstacle on Tuesday.

“We’re expecting 10 inches of snow tomorrow,” she said.

Meanwhile, the Sparta Area School District is asking voters to approve $28.5 million in borrowing to buy land and build a new elementary school for the growing district. A second question on the ballot asks voters to allow the district to borrow $4 million for infrastructure improvements to four other schools in the district. If both proposals passed, taxes on a $100,000 home in the district would increase $38 a year.

It’s the first request to pay for school-building work in Sparta since the late 1990s, said Leah Hauser, director of business services for the Sparta Area School District.

The new building is to be the linchpin in a plan to shuffle where students attend school in the district. If the proposal passed, the district would build a new school to accommodate 800 first- through fourth- graders. The district would also phase out two of its existing schools, consolidating elementary students in the new building.

Hauser said the referendum is mainly meant to deal with overcrowding in Sparta schools. The district has seen 287 students move into it in the past five years, in part because nearby Fort McCoy is home to a U.S. Army outpost that has been expanding. The district expects student enrollments to continue increasing, going up by 20 percent in the next 20 years, she said.

“Many districts go to referendum because of declining enrollment or (outdated facilities),” Hauser said. “We don’t have that problem.”

About Nate Beck, [email protected]

Nate Beck is The Daily Reporter's construction staff writer. He can be reached at (414) 225-1814 (office) or 414-388-5635 (mobile).

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