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Boscobel School District floats new consolidation plan
At Boscobel Common Council meeting
Boscobel City Hall

BOSCOBEL - Boscobel’s grade schoolers would vacate the Rock and Annex buildings under the district’s latest proposal to consolidate the district. Lower grade students would move across the street, while fourth and fifth graders would migrate to an expanded facility at the current middle/high school.

District Administrator Lisa Wallin-Kapinus, along with district personnel and architects, presented the idea to the Boscobel Common Council at its November 7 meeting.

“Where we’re at thus far is just kind of the big ideas,” Wallin-Kapinus said. “We’re looking at what would it look like in future planning phases if we wanted to build towards that goal of having one campus. It’s going to take a while. We just wanted to update the City Council on what we’ve been doing.”

Specifically, the proposal would open the block flanked by Buchanan and Park streets where the Rock and Annex buildings stand, providing a development opportunity for the district and the city.

The Rock building has more than 20,000 square feet and was built in 1898 from locally quarried stone. It was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1986. Wallin-Kapinus suggested that it could be repurposed, perhaps as housing to ease Boscobel’s shortage.

“Is that something we can develop?” Wallin-Kapinus asked the council. “Is that something the city would want to help develop?” She said there has been preliminary interest from investors who specialize in turning historic buildings into residential space.

Another question for the council concerned the baseball field to the south of the existing high school structure. With drainage issues to the north, the southward expansion of the building would cut into the current field.

Wallin-Kapinus said that rather than build a new baseball field from scratch, the city and district could collaborate to upgrade the current softball fields.

“Could we have a shared complex? I’d just hate to stick another $1.4 million into building a baseball field when we have a field that could be renovated for baseball and softball both,” she said.

Referendum in April

The presentation of the district’s “big ideas” comes following a vote by Boscobel’s school board to put a referendum on the ballot in the spring 2023 election. Between now and then, the board will put numbers to the proposal.

It will be the third time in seven years that the board has asked the community to support upgrades to the district infrastructure: A failed referendum in November 2015 sought financing to repair the existing buildings; a split vote in April 2016 approved a tax hike to cover operational expenses but shot down a bid to consolidate all three elementary buildings into a newly remodeled high school.

That’s left the district with hefty maintenance bills on the three elderly elementary buildings, Wallin-Kapinus told the council.

“It costs a lot to run them,” she said. “The question becomes how much money do we want to throw at something. It might be great for a developer, but not a school.”

Still, with the cost of new construction spiked by inflation, the incremental approach of keeping early childhood education through grade three one of the three existing elementary buildings is a more prudent approach, the district figures.

“Right now, our kiddos have to go back and forth across the street and it’s sleeting and it’s raining and it’s a lot,” she said. “Let’s get all our kids on one side of the street at least.”

Funding dilemma

Across the state, Wisconsin schools are facing similar budget crises, with rural districts especially hard hit. In the past decade, Wisconsin funding has lagged behind neighboring states, according to the nonprofit and nonpartisan research organization Wisconsin Policy Forum.

Since 2002, the Forum reports, Wisconsin’s growth in per-pupil spending ranked forty-eighth in the nation, and in the most recent budget, school spending limits were frozen altogether, even though the state enjoys a record budget surplus.

Similar to municipal units like counties and townships, Wisconsin school districts are restricted by Madison in how much money they can raise through real estate taxes, but the state aid intended to keep those taxes low has not kept pace with inflation.

The only recourse for many districts is to ask the taxpayers to approve a referendum to exceed state limits. In this week’s midterms, 81 districts had referenda on the ballots. A similar number made the same ask in last April’s election.

Attracting families

Funding problems are compounded in districts like Boscobel that face declining enrollment, due both to an aging population and to open enrollment policies that divert students to other districts.

It’s a Catch 22: Elderly residents without school-age children are reluctant to commit their tax dollars to a resource they don’t use, but families with young children—who might grow the economy and the tax base with it—will simply move on to a community with better school funding.

Wallin-Kapinus hopes to reverse this trend with a focus on Career and Technical Education (CTE), a high-demand fast track for students who want to get a leg up on their workforce training. Some of the remodeling at the high school would focus on CTE facilities, specifically agricultural training, according to Wallin-Kapinus, with the hope of attracting open-enrollment students from other districts.

Other improvements would range from consolidated administrative offices to eliminate redundancies, a new gym that would double as a community resource, and improved Americans with Disabilities Act compliance.

Next steps

The district is currently launching an effort to gather information and opinions from the public as they move toward a spring referendum.

Residents and parents are encouraged to participate and learn more by attending a school board meeting (second Mondays) or reaching out on the school website.

Other business

The council also approved:

• Hiring Glenn Griswold to replace Steve Wetter as part-time caretaker at the airport.

• A final developer’s agreement with KC DT, LLC. The company is building a Dollar Tree/Family Dollar combo store and will recoup its initial investment from 70 percent of the improved tax value of the land over a 17-year period.

• Final storm sewer installation to drain standing water in the alley on Block 47.

• Mayoral appointments of Phil Molldrem as Chair of the Zoning Board of Appeals to replace Paul Beck, who remains on the board but stepped down as chair; and Marion Roghers to the Tuffley Center board.

• Greenlighting a search for the missing Boscobel centennial time capsule with assistance from Mike Reynolds, Boscobel’s Public Works Director/City Engineer.