Community members have an important decision to make April 7.
I have had an opportunity to hear from many of our community members with questions about the upcoming referendum. I encourage you to check out the district’s website and our videos that explain many aspects of the referendum.
If you go to our district website at www.platteville.k12.wi.us and click on “Blueprint for the Future,” you will find pages that address each of the major projects.
One of the more helpful sections gives answers to “Frequently Asked Questions” that I have heard as I have been out talking with people. I would like to share a few of those answers for those that are not able to attend our information sessions:
How can you say that our taxes will not go up when you are spending more than $16 million on this project?
This project proposal has been timed to coincide with the retirement of debt payments from the 1996 referendum. The new debt payments will be the same or less than the 1996 referendum debt payments and will not start until the previous debt had been paid off. Estimated conservatively at 4% interest, borrowing $15 million over 20 years will result in an annual payment of approximately $1.12 million. Our present annual payment is $1.26 million.
We were promised 20 years ago during the last referendum that our taxes would decrease when it was done being paid off. How come you are breaking that promise?
If the Platteville community does not support this referendum, property taxes will decrease as promised 20 years ago.
Voters have an opportunity to decide if this referendum request is worthy of their support. That being said, I don’t believe anyone involved in education back in 1996 could have foreseen the drastic cuts that have occurred in K–12 education over the last few years. In the 2016–17 school year, if the biennial budget goes through as proposed, Platteville schools will face another cut in state aid of more than $220,000. Our annual budget would be $156,000 less than it was five years ago when we had 60 fewer students.
This referendum, if passed, would address many of our future maintenance and facility needs. If it does not pass, many of the identified maintenance needs will need to come from our operating budget. This would require us to cut programs and staff or defer needed maintenance projects, forcing us in a position of choosing between our students or our buildings.
Why not save up the money rather than borrowing?
Wisconsin law related to school funding does not allow a district to levy taxes so it can put money aside for future building projects. We do not have enough room in our operating budget to put money aside from our operating budget. We have already planned to use $1 million from our fund balance to cover some of the maintenance costs in this project. Using any more than that would potentially put our outstanding credit rating at risk and require us to consider short-term borrowing to meet operating expenses.
Interest rates are historically low, construction costs will only continue to rise, and we want to keep our buildings updated and in good shape so that the cost to maintain them stays reasonable. A neighboring district similar in size to Platteville recently went to referendum for $48 million to address their future facility needs. We believe this comes at the perfect time to maximize the use of our present facilities and keep them viable well into the future.
If you need additional space at Neal Wilkins, Westview, and the Middle School, why not reopen O.E. Gray?
When Platteville Public Schools closed O.E. Gray, there was an annual operating cost savings of nearly $500,000. If we were to open it back up, it would significantly increase our operating costs and we would likely need to go to referendum just to maintain our current programming without any improvement to our facilities. We would need to invest more than $1 million in that building to address the maintenance priority items required to bring it back into operation and add a safe and secure entrance to that building as well. We would also create one more transition for our families and students by moving 4K and Kindergarten there.
Currently, O.E. Gray is almost fully rented to community agencies that provide valuable benefits to the Platteville community, including Headstart, Family Connections, Southwest Wisconsin Technical College, CESA 3, and Forward Services. Renting out these spaces covers the district’s operating expense for this building.
Why not move students to the high school? Isn’t it under capacity?
The survey of staff, students, parents, and community members overwhelmingly rejected the idea of moving seventh- and eighth-graders up to the high school. Platteville High School is not set up in a way that would provide separation for these grade levels. Districts that do have this type of configuration were typically built to accommodate that separation and have separate common spaces for middle and high school students.
Please vote April 7 … and as always… Go Hillmen!