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Windsor Elementary School

Windsor Elementary School was expanded following a 2015 referendum. The DeForest School District is now seeking to expand capacity across the district.

A second significant school spending referendum in Dane County next month asks taxpayers in the DeForest School District to approve $125 million in borrowing to build an intermediate school and make other improvements district officials say are needed to accommodate the expanding student population.

The proposed $57.4 million intermediate school for grades 4 through 6 would be built on land already owned by the district. The rest of the money would be distributed among two of the district’s elementary schools, the middle school and the high school to renovate outdated classrooms, build additions and make them handicapped-accessible.

The school is also seeking to exceed state revenue limits by $2.5 million a year to cover expanded operating costs. About $1.5 million of that would go toward staffing and maintaining the intermediate school and the expansion of the high school, Superintendent Eric Runez said. The other $1 million would be used to help attract and retain teachers as well as improve programming to benefit students.

Homeowners in the district would pay about $274 extra per $100,000 of a home’s value if both questions pass. That’s about $630 for the average DeForest home valued at $229,886, and about $807 for the average home in Windsor, valued at $294,582.

Other highlights

If the April 2 referendum passes, the school district would also:

  • Renovate classrooms in the high school.
  • Replace the high school’s pool and gym.
  • Convert the high school’s current pool and gym into instructional space, a cafeteria and a library.
  • Renovate much of Yahara Elementary School.
  • Renovate the older parts of the middle school, which would hold seventh- and eighth-grade classes.

A 50-member committee of community members, business owners, school staff and parents recommended the referendum to the School Board.

“We do want to be a forward thinking district, and we do want to address the current growth we’re incurring,” said Emily Muscato, of DeForest, a member of the committee who has a child in first grade and one who will enter 4-year-old kindergarten next year.

Committee member Amy Meinen, of DeForest, who has one child in fifth grade and one in second, said that while the dollar amount the school district is asking for may seem like a lot, the committee felt it was needed.

“It may be a surprise to our fellow community members, but to those of us on the committee ... there was a lot of conversations around, ‘If we don’t do it now, when will we, and will it cost more to do it later?’” Meinen said.

Growth ahead

Residents of the school district passed a $41 million referendum in 2015 to renovate and rebuild two of the district’s four elementary schools. Since then, student enrollment has continued to increase, exceeding projections.

Updated projections show the district’s enrollment hitting 4,500 students in 2025, Runez said. The district’s current capacity is 4,000 students. The intermediate school construction along with the other renovations and expansions would increase that capacity to 5,000, Runez said.

The new intermediate school will take fourth-grade students out of the elementary schools and fifth- and sixth-grade students out of the middle school, alleviating some of the crowding in those buildings to make room for ballooning enrollment, Runez said.

The high school is also facing some capacity challenges, particularly in common spaces like the cafeteria, Runez said. By replacing the school’s locker rooms and pool — which has a decaying support structure — the district will be able to build a larger cafeteria and library and more classroom spaces.

The new pool, gymnasium and locker rooms would be built in a new wing of the high school.

“This referendum really touches every student from 4K through high school,” Muscato said.

EDITOR'S NOTE: This story has been updated to correct the name of Emily Muscato.

A 50-member committee of community members, business owners, school staff and parents recommended the referendum to the School Board.
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Shelley K. Mesch is a general assignment reporter for the Wisconsin State Journal. She earned a degree in journalism from DePaul University.