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Ashwaubenon school board reviews survey results

By Kevin Boneske
Staff Writer

ASHWAUBENON – The results are in from a survey sent out last month to residents to gauge support for possible referendum questions next April.

Bill Foster of School Perceptions, the Slinger-based firm that put together the survey, presented the board Wednesday, Nov. 13, with the results via teleconference.

With assistance from Mandy Schroeder, the district’s information and communications coordinator, Foster’s remarks included a visual presentation with the survey results, in which 1,711 responded.

Of those responding, Foster said senior citizens were well-represented in the survey with 26 percent being age 65 or older.

“By the way, that’s overrepresented with seniors, so when it comes to voting, the seniors are overrepresented, especially compared to your younger folks,” he said. “Our seniors complete surveys and they tend to vote, so that’s very good (to have in the survey results).”

Though 17 percent of all those responding don’t live in the school district, which Foster attributed primarily to either the respondents being school staff or parents who open-enroll into Ashwaubenon, he said non-residents were not included in the results for questions related to referendum funding support.

Foster said parents and district staff were overrepresented in the survey results, for which subgroups were designated to remove any bias in the findings.

“The staff will be a subgroup, the parents will be a subgroup and then actually the most important subgroup we’re going to find out is the non-parent, non-staff,” he said.

In addition to 73 percent of residents having supported exploring the idea of holding a referendum, Foster said majorities of all three subgroups were in favor with 63 percent of the non-parents, non-staff indicating support.

“It doesn’t always happen that way, but in the case of Ashwaubenon, you’ve got a lot of support to continue to figure out what it exactly is that people want,” he said.

Level of support

To measure the level of support for what could be included in a referendum, the survey asked about the following with the estimated costs:

• Providing funding to improve school security at Cormier and Pioneer Elementary School ($3.9 million).

• Updating the district’s facilities to remove asbestos, repair the Pioneer gym foundation, repair the track, replace three gym floors, replace lighting in the gyms and the Parkview Middle School library, and replace windows and doors at Parkview ($1.8 million).

• Providing funding to improve student mental health services ($650,000 annually).

• Providing funding to add air conditioning throughout the high school, Pioneer and Valley View Elementary School (Install: $4.35 million, operate: $80,000 annually).

With a “yes” response rated a 10 and a “no” being a one, Foster said the responses averaged above 5.5 to indicate majority support.

“So, it’s pretty clear that all these items, including air conditioning, which I think we didn’t know for sure, has majority support for funding,” he said. “So we’ve got clear direction, clear data there.”

A variety of facility improvements known as the base plan estimated to cost $10.05 million could be included in a capital referendum with the addition of air conditioning accounting for a projected $4.35 million.

Given the base plan is projected to increase the district’s mill rate by 10 cents per $1,000 above the current property tax level, Foster said majorities of respondents in all subgroups indicated they are either definitely or probably in favor.

His analysis of the base plan survey results factored in the likelihood of 80 percent of the community not working in the district nor having children attend Ashwaubenon schools and about 20 percent being parents, along with assuming a third of those responding as undecided will support the plan and the other two-thirds won’t.

Foster said he has “a high level of confidence it would pass at close to 70 percent support.”

“So I think we’ve got not only permission to pursue it, but probably permission to put it on the ballot,” he said.
The survey also asked about an additional project that would more than double the capital referendum amount, building a multi-use indoor facility at an estimated cost of $10.8 million.

With that bringing the referendum amount up to $20.85 million, which would result in an estimated mill rate increase of 70 cents per $1,000 above the current property tax level, Foster said only the subgroup of parents had a majority (51 percent) either definitely or probably in favor, while 62 percent of the non-parent, non-staff residents indicated being probably or definitely opposed.

“In our world, any time that probably no and definitely no approaches 50 percent for the non-parent, non-staff, it’s going to be very difficult to get support at this time,” he said.

Given the overall lack of majority support in the survey when adding the multi-purpose facility to the capital referendum, Foster said the additional facility “probably should not be considered at this time.”

The board is also considering an operational referendum of $730,000 annually that would include $650,000 to improve student mental health services and $80,000 to operate the additional air conditioning that would be installed as part of the capital referendum.

The survey listed the estimated mill rate increase for the operational referendum as being 55 cents per $1,000 above the current property tax level for each of the next five years.

Foster said majorities of all residents (55 percent), staff (74 percent) and parents (68 percent) indicated they are definitely or probably in favor of that operational referendum, with the non-parent, non-staff subgroup indicating 43 percent in favor and 38 percent against with 19 percent undecided.

He said he believes convincing a third of those undecided to support the operational referendum “would be able to carry it over the finish line, and we’d be at 54 percent.”

Foster said he recommends the board place a capital referendum with only the base plan and an operational referendum on the ballot next April with most of the focus placed on the operational referendum so voters will understand what is involved.

“You only can have two questions on the ballot now – one being capital and one being operational,” he said. “My recommendation would be not to go for the multi-use facility at this time – we’re not saying no forever, we’re just saying not at this time – and the second question will be the operational referendum.”

Because the majority of the operational referendum would fund student mental health services, Foster said that is where the district should focus its communication.

Business Director Keith Lucius said he and Superintendent Kurt Weyers have found community members and staff have questions about what the operational referendum could include.

“When people aren’t sure, they don’t vote for $600,000-plus,” Lucius said. “So we need to get that information out and define that more.”

The board agreed to make a final decision at its Dec. 11 meeting for holding referendum questions next April.

In addition to mailings being sent to all district residents, parents and staff about the survey results and the next steps leading up to referendum questions being placed on the ballot, as well as communication through email, mailings, the district’s website and social media, Schroeder said the district is planning two public information sessions – Jan. 29 at 6 p.m. in the Pioneer Gym and March 9 at 6 p.m. in the Cormier gym.

“We felt like it was important to have (the informational sessions) at the schools, especially those schools that we have the (referendum) questions associated with,” Schroeder said. “Pioneer has a lot with the foundation at the gym crumbling and the gym floor, so they can actually see what’s going to be happening, and then also take them on a tour by the entrances to see how (the capital referendum) would affect the entrances and the safety there.”

Multi-use facility

Though board members indicated they were in agreement to not include a new multi-use facility in a referendum next April, that doesn’t necessarily mean the project wouldn’t be built in the future.

“We do not have a plan for that, and it is far from a certainty that we would bring that in the future,” Lucius said. “We do not want the community to think that the district is planning another referendum in 2021. We are not planning another referendum. If residents come forward that want to pursue that project, we would be willing to listen, but they would have to show community support before we would move forward on another referendum.”

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