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West De Pere will ask referendum questions

By Ben Rodgers

DE PERE – Because of increased enrollment over the past decade the West De Pere School District will look to voters to support a referendum to help with a new grade configuration and a new building for students.

In July, the school board approved a new grade configuration that would change Hemlock Creek and Westwood elementary schools to K-4 buildings, with 4k continuing offsite and at Westwood.

The current middle school would convert to a grade 7-8 building, and a new 5-6 building would be constructed on land directly behind the current middle school.

Renovations/additions would then be constructed at the high school.

Information from a focus group presented in May shows the district’s enrollment climbing steadily since 2002-03 to now.

For the 2002-03 school year, the district had 1,870 students. For the 2017-18 school year, that number was 3,216.

For the past four years, the district has capped the number of students attending from other districts to try and limit the number of students.

“People are very selective in regards to the schools they send their children to, and we have been a target for families for a number of years,” said Superintendent John Zegers said. “It really doesn’t have anything to do with open enrollment because we haven’t had open enrollment for four years.”

Regardless, families still move into the area, guaranteeing their children a seat in the classroom.

“It’s a great place to raise children, and the town of Lawrence and the town of Hobart have been growing because of it, and also the city of De Pere,” Zegers said. “We like to think we provide an excellent educational environment for students K-12, and humbly I’d like to tell you that’s the reason. We have high-quality staff and a supportive taxpayer community and we’re very grateful for those.”

Zegers said the district has worked on this issue since 2008 and has conducted numerous studies and community surveys about the best method to move forward.

“We’ve done our homework in regard to surveying the community, getting up-to-date projections with buildings and growth, and the time has come now to expand our facilities to meet the needs of our students for the next decade and beyond,” he said.

The school board has already approved two questions for the recurring referendum for the length of the bond payments that will be on the Nov. 6 ballot.

The first question asks if the board can pursue the issuance of general promissory bonds for $64.8 million for the new building.

The second question asks for $9.9 million for a new multi-purpose indoor facility, along with improvements to the outdoor facilities.

The indoor facility would be 50,000 square feet, with a 55-foot-high ceiling, and would be located at the high school.
It would provide space for physical education classes, AP and state testing, field space for band practice, speed and strength training, and practice room for golf, track and field, softball, baseball, soccer and football.

The first question must pass in order for the second to be considered, Zegers said.

Zegers said the district has provided consistent relief in the property tax mill rate over the past few years.

“We’re projected this year to have a 30-cent drop in our mill rate,” he said. “Over the last five years, our mill rate has dropped a total of $1.85 (per $1,000 of home value). Over the last seven years, it has gone down $1.98. So I think we’ve been really open and transparent with our taxpayers. We really appreciate their support. Also knowing where we are, everybody would like to have a decrease in their taxes and we provided that.”

For a $150,000 home, taxpayers could expect to pay $3 per month, or $36 a year if the first question passes.

If the second question passes, an additional $3.88 per month or $46.50 a year would be assessed.

Those numbers would be doubled if a house was worth $300,000.

Zegers said projected enrollments show large class sizes coming up, so now is the time to act with a referendum.

“We feel the pressure now at the middle school and high school,” he said. “Our numbers are up a little, but we need to make some adjustments, so now is the time for that. But we’ve also had a consistent growth pattern, so we have some big classes coming up.”

All information related to the referendum, focus groups and surveys is online at wdpsd.com. To stay up to date, follow the district on Facebook.

Renderings for the new building will be released in the near future.

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