One of the largest school referendums in state history was overwhelmingly approved Tuesday as voters in the Verona School District took advantage of an influx of tax revenue from its largest private employer and gave the go-ahead for a sweeping building plan designed to transform the growing district.
The $181.3 million proposal included a $162.8 million question for a new high school and improvements to other district buildings. The plan is being buoyed by an influx of $140 million to the district over the next 20 years in tax revenue from a now-closed tax incremental financing district that included Epic Systems Corp., the huge medical software company on the city’s southwest side.
Had voters turned down the $162.8 million question, the school tax rate would have dropped from $11.98 per $1,000 of valuation to $9.45, saving the owner of a $250,000 home $527 a year. Approving the measure will instead add 42 cents to the tax rate, costing the owner of a $250,000 home an additional $105 a year.
Superintendent Dean Gorrell said the strong support reflected in the vote reaffirmed more than 10 years of study, surveys and community meetings.
"We're really excited. This is a big deal for our community. Its a big deal for the kids that will go through these schools and through this new high school," Gorrell said. "Our community has routinely, historically, stepped up to support its children. So it's not a surprise that they did it again."
The $162.8 million in new borrowing will allow construction of a high school for 2,200 students on 108 acres of district-owned land along Highway 18-151 at West Verona Avenue on the city's southwest side and reconfigure other schools so that two of the district's oldest elementary schools can be closed. The new high school, scheduled to open in fall 2020, will include a performing arts center, a field house with four full-size basketball courts, and a track and outdoor practice fields.
A second question to spend $18.5 million for an indoor swimming pool and new competition athletic fields at the new high school was also approved along with a third question to increase spending by $2.3 million each year to fund operating costs beginning in 2021 for the new facilities and grounds.
Since 1989, Verona has seen its enrollment more than double to 5,111 students, and the district projects another 4,400 housing units will be added by 2030.
Voters signal broad support
In the Mount Horeb Area School District, voters approved a $38.5 million measure to improve security, update infrastructure and remodel science labs, technology and agricultural space -- including a greenhouse -- at the high school, built in 1962.
“We’re really excited about an opportunity to begin a STEAM program,” said Superintendent Steve Salerno, referring to science, technology, engineering, art and mathematics. “It’s an opportunity for us to compete better -- for our students, when they go into post high-school studies, to do so successfully."
Entryways at three buildings will be rebuilt to be more secure, and the roof and heating and cooling systems at the middle school will also be replaced.
In Pardeeville, voters approved $11.9 million for an upgraded auditorium, security improvements and high school renovations that will open up the weight room, fitness center and gym to residents and outside groups.
“It will create more community access,” said Superintendent Gus Knitt.
Another measure approved will let Pardeeville schools exceed state-imposed revenue caps by $130,000 in 2018 and by $850,000 a year for four years beginning with the 2018-19 school year.
But while multimillion-dollar building plans were approved by some districts, voters in Wisconsin Heights approved a two year proposal just to keep the lights on as state aid has been reduced to $1.4 million this year from $3.9 million in 2009.
With Tuesday’s vote, the district of 800 students that includes the communities of Mazomanie and Black Earth, will be allowed to increase spending by $1.9 million for the 2017-18 school year and $2.2 million for the 2018-19 school year. It’s the fifth time the district has held an operational referendum since 2009.
“We’ve been really fortunate to have this level of community support. We’re really grateful,” said Superintendent Randy Freese. “We’ll just have to keep coming back to the community. I guess that’s the future.”