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MMSD capital referendum gets ‘general support’ in early outreach sessions, district says

MMSD capital referendum gets ‘general support’ in early outreach sessions, district says

LaFollette High School-11072018103652 (copy)

La Follette High School would be among the beneficiaries of a capital referendum next November that would fund renovations at all four comprehensive high schools, consolidate Capital High School to one location and build a new elementary school in the Rimrock neighborhood.

The first half of the outreach sessions on the proposed November 2020 Madison School District facilities referendum has found “general support” among the 372 reported attendees.

A report from the district’s Research and Program Evaluation Office presented Monday to the School Board indicated people who have attended one of the 31 sessions, some targeted to specific buildings or communities and some for the general public, have agreed the district has targeted areas of need in the $310-315 million proposal being discussed now. That would add an estimated $69 per $100,000 of property value to a tax bill.

“We’re not seeing at this point any major red flags that would cause you to shift course,” district executive director of research, accountability and data use Andrew Statz said. “We’re encouraged by what we’re seeing.”

Sessions are planned through December, with a final report expected to the board in January.

District staff have been presenting a referendum that would spend $70 million at each of the four comprehensive high schools, build a new elementary school in the Rimrock Road neighborhood and consolidate Capital High School in the Hoyt School building. None of those details are final, and the School Board will have to approve a final referendum question by May 25 to put it on the November 2020 ballot.

According to the memo presented Monday, attendees so far have expressed concerns at the price tag of the referendum.

“For the most part, these participants did not withhold their own support, but did worry that other taxpayers might balk at the combined cost of the referenda,” the memo states. “Many community members raising this concern went further, emphasizing that the district should strive for greater transparency in communicating the details of how referendum funds would be spent, given the significant potential cost to the public.”

The report cautions that there is still more data, both through public input sessions and a survey that is open until Dec. 5, to be gathered to measure the community’s opinions. However, what they’ve gathered so far shows an understanding of the rationale for the capital projects, according to the report.

“Several community members shared that they believed there to be a clear need for investment in renovating the high schools, given the state of each school’s physical plant and the age of each building,” the report states. “In addition, participants appreciated that the investment would have a broad impact, affecting the experiences of a large number of students throughout Madison.”

Less clear, apparently, is the need for a potential operating referendum, which has received “limited feedback” so far, the report states. The district is considering asking taxpayers to allow it to surpass the state-imposed levy limit for the next four years, by $8 million in 2020-21 and 2021-22 and $10 million in 2022-23 and 2023-24. That would add $66 per $100,000 of property value to a tax bill.

“Those that did provide feedback have indicated general support, agreeing that state under-investment has created a real need, and that the referendum is necessary to maintain MMSD’s high-quality workforce,” the report states. “Others, however, have questioned how the operating referendum directly impacts schools and whether expanding the district’s operating budget would truly lead to greater academic outcomes.”

Board members suggested staff emphasize what the 2016 operating referendum helped create or fund in the district to make it more clear for those who want more information on what an operating referendum would fund.

Statz reported some specific concerns related to the potential Rimrock school and Capital High projects, though attendees so far have expressed overall support for both projects.. On the former, the most notable was the amount of racial or socioeconomic segregation at an elementary school in that neighborhood, though Statz noted it would be the same as the Allis Elementary School or Nuestro Mundo school have now.

With Capital High, concerns have included the effect on the Hoyt neighborhood and the distance students from the east side would have to travel to the building.

Board member Cris Carusi said she hoped staff could address some questions on transportation to Hoyt and what school could be housed in the new elementary building for board members before they have to approve a question for the ballot.

“I think it would just be helpful to get some of those questions answered publicly … so things go smoothly,” Carusi said.

Board president Gloria Reyes asked staff to give board members an idea of what communities were missing from the feedback so far so they can try to fill that gap.

“That’s always a problem,” Reyes said. “We want to do community engagement, we follow best practice and we go through the movements, but oftentimes it’s just really hard to get people to come to a meeting.”

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Scott Girard is the local k-12 education reporter at the Cap Times. A Madison native, he joined the paper in 2019 after working for six years for Unified Newspaper Group. Follow him on Twitter @sgirard9.

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