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Community Corner: The students are back, and ...
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Two weeks ago, I walked out of the house to a chill in the air and the first thought I had was that it felt like fall.

Of course, it was followed up with a melting heat wave the next week that is characteristic of Wisconsin weather, but nonetheless, it was a stark reminder that school would be starting soon.

One of the unique political aspects of Wisconsin’s past has been a strong desire for local control, especially as it relates to education. The annual meeting is a great example of citizen participation in local government decision-making and is the necessary first step to setting up another successful school year. Following a budget hearing for the 2014–15 school year, perhaps the most important action taken at the annual meeting is to approve a tax levy for the operation of the school district.

At this year’s Annual Meeting, we asked the electors to support an increase in the district property tax levy by 2.45 percent over the previous year which would result in a mil rate increase from $11.38 per $1,000 assessed valuation to $11.63 per $1,000. The increase is largely due to a state allowable increase in the revenue limit to offset the cost of increases in the cost materials and supplies and employee compensations and benefits. Even with the increase, the budget proposed was only $717 more that the budget expenditures from 2010–11, back when we had 50 fewer students enrolled.

I am so pleased that along with that request for significant community support, I can confidently say that the Platteville School District delivers results in the form of outstanding achievement. Our composite ACT score just released, is higher than it has been in several years and stands out in Southwest Wisconsin. Although I cannot yet release them until mid-September (spoiler alert!), the community can be justifiably proud of our district school report cards that will hit the press on Sept. 16. The Platteville School District is made up of a great staff, great kids, and great families … and it shows.

Once again, the 2014–15 school year looks to be a year of unprecedented change. I have been in education for many years and I have never seen the types and amount of change occurring, most actually driven at the federal level and implemented at the state level. Virtually every grade level of students will be involved in new assessments designed to measure student achievement and growth. Following a great pilot year, our teaching staff will officially begin the required Wisconsin Educator Effectiveness Initiative. As with our students, I have no doubt that our teachers are among the best in the state and this will be just another opportunity for them to showcase their abilities.

Another aspect of strong local control is that any decision to levy for significant school building projects or debt service requires a community to approve a referendum. Following the facility study and after gathering feedback from staff, students, parents, and community members, the Platteville School Board has decided to pursue further study into the “Westview Option.” The name that this option has garnered is misleading in that the proposal will address updating and an ongoing maintenance plan to cover the district for many years into the future across all of our buildings. The most recognizable aspect of the plan is the shift of 4th grade students from the Middle School to Westview, hence the name. It includes renovation and an addition to Neal Wilkins, as well as providing a safer and more visible entry system, adding onto the size of the Kindergarten rooms, and air conditioning. At Westview, it includes adding classrooms, a new more visible and safer entry, as well as a safer student drop-off, a new cafeteria or gym space, and … air conditioning.

The addition of St. Mary’s students, which was not predicted when the present configuration was established, really strained the space and function of the middle school by adding new sections at each grade level. The proposal being studied would remodel several areas including the science labs and add a safer and more visible entrance. At the High School, changes also include work on the entrance, remodeling of science labs, and general updating across the building. It will likely also include improvements in our ability to house and serve community members during a community disaster, such as the tornado this summer.

Although it may have appeared so, we are not at the referendum question level yet. We are in the process of studying the feasibility of this option. We will be getting more refined cost estimates and making tentative decisions as to what will actually be completed. The cost estimate was approximately $18.7 million, over our benchmark goal of $16 million, the amount that could have been borrowed without increasing the part of our tax levy that goes to debt service. Some of the projects have already been completed or could be completed using the annual maintenance and improvement budget.

The next step will be to share a concept plan and drawings with community members for feedback. A decision as to whether to go forward with an actual referendum will not occur until closer to December, with plenty of opportunity for feedback before then. I invite you to go to our website and get more detailed information about this option and what it might mean for the various schools.

The Community Corner is a weekly column of opinion written by guest columnists UW–Platteville Chancellor Dennis Shields; Platteville School District Superintendent Connie Valenza; Platteville Regional Chamber Executive Director Kathy Kopp; Main Street Program Director Jack Luedtke; State Rep. Travis Tranel, Platteville City Manager Larry Bierke and Police Chief Doug McKinley.