School board advised to choose high school or middle school -- not both -- for possible referendum

November 17, 2018 GMT

A survey sent to all households within the Baraboo School District found a referendum could likely only pass next spring if it asked for funds to complete projects at one school, forgoing at least temporarily the second part of the current Facilities Master Plan phase.

Bill Foster of School Perceptions, a Slinger research firm hired to administer the survey, presented the results at Monday’s school board meeting.

“We’ve got really inconclusive data,” Foster said about which projects a referendum should fund. “I would say there’s support to make an investment at the high school or the middle school, but not both. So if you try to put both on one ballot, it would likely not be successful. However, both of the other two projects are right on the bubble of having support.”

The survey conducted in October and November garnered a total of 1,627 responses — a “very, very good sampling,” Foster said, with a margin of error of 2.5 percent.

Phase three of the master plan, which was developed in 2012, includes finishing projects remaining at Baraboo High School and updating Jack Young Middle School. The first two phases, consisting of addressing safety, security and maintenance needs districtwide and updating the high school, have already been completed.

According to information included with the survey, the high school still needs to update its agriculture science space by adding a lab and more classrooms, among other improvements, to accommodate increased student interest. A new three-court gym would also be added, because the current gym was built for a much smaller number of students participating in athletics. These projects are estimated to cost $18.25 million, which would increase annual school-related taxes by about $19 on a home valued at $100,000.

Work planned for Jack Young Middle School is more extensive, spanning repair and maintenance issues to updating and adding classroom and common spaces. The building, which last received an addition in 1997, needs new electrical and plumbing systems, a new furnace, its first air-conditioning system and a reconfigured ramp and staircase that would comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Other projects include adding labs, replacing classroom dividers with walls and expanding the cafeteria space and gym. Those projects would cost an estimated $41.7 million and would increase taxes by about $94 on a $100,000 home.

For the question asking whether residents would support an $18.25 million referendum for the high school, 52 percent responded with either probably or definitely yes and 37 percent said probably or definitely no. Another 11 percent were undecided.

Only about one-third of those who are undecided in the survey usually end up voting yes on the same question during the election, Foster said. The remaining two-thirds tend to vote no.

When considering a $41.7 million referendum for projects at the middle school, 53 percent of respondents said they probably or definitely would support it, compared to 35 percent not supporting it. Twelve percent were undecided.

However, when combined into one question for a $59.95 million referendum, only 44 percent gave a positive response and another 44 percent gave a negative response. Twelve percent were still undecided.

Foster noted the results including all respondents are biased in favor of schools due to the number of district staff and parents who participate. Staff members tend to be the strongest supporters of referendums, with parents close behind. Those with no direct stake in the school district tend to be least supportive.

“They’re the most important group, because they literally represent the majority of our voters,” he said of non-staff, non-parents.

Age also plays a part in determining which responses matter most. The people who returned the most surveys were those 65 years or older, making up 26 percent of all respondents. Foster said he likes to see senior citizens well-represented in this type of survey, because they tend to vote at a higher rate than other age groups.

In the question that combined all projects, 56 percent of the non-parent, non-staff group indicated they would not support the referendum. When the percentage of that group saying no exceeds 50 percent, “that’s pretty tough,” Foster said.

Board members did not take any action on the survey results Monday.

Board Treasurer Sean McNevin said they need to reflect on Foster’s advice to pursue only one part of phase three. McNevin has been spearheading efforts to inform the community about the state of the Facilities Master Plan and potential referendum.

“We certainly do not want to go out to the public after a survey and ask them for something that they don’t support,” he said.

District Administrator Lori Mueller said the board has until Jan. 22 to decide on a resolution if members want a referendum on the spring ballot.