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Support for Montevideo Schools facilities improvements falls short of needs

Montevideo School Board members have identified $90 million worth of facilities needs in the district. A recent survey of residents found that the "tax tolerance" falls short of that level of investment.

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Montevideo Superintendent of Schools Luther Heller spoke to district residents at public information meeting in May on the district's school facilities needs. A recent survey found that the "tax tolerance" of district residents falls short of the needs identified by school board members. Tom Cherveny / West Tribune file photo

MONTEVIDEO — Montevideo School Board members have identified $90 million worth of facilities needs in the district, from replacing two aged elementary school buildings and a mold-filled, 1940s fine arts building to upgrading safety and technology.

They learned Monday that there is public support to address the needs, but that the “tax tolerance” of residents in the district falls well below that level of investment.

“I think this is what you call a stunned silence,” said Superintendent of Schools Luther Heller of the reaction by board members after they heard a presentation on a recent survey of district residents.

Via conference call, Sue Peterson, of School Perceptions of Slinger, Wisconsin, told the board members that the survey conducted last month found support in the district “for doing something. You just have to be conscious of what that tax impact is,” she said.

The survey found that overall, there was a “slight leaning to yes” when residents were asked whether they favored replacing the Ramsey Elementary and Sanford Education Center buildings with a new elementary building. There was also stronger support for safety and security and Americans with Disabilities Act improvements in all of the district’s buildings.

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But the support waned when the survey respondents were able to see the tax impact on their own properties.

The project to replace the Ramsey and Sanford buildings with a new elementary school is estimated at $44.2 million. The work to remodel the Middle School is estimated at $2.9 million, or a $47.1 million total for both projects.

When asked if they would support a $47.1 million bond and the corresponding tax increase that would require, 47 percent of district residents without children in school said “no,” as compared to 42 percent who said “yes” and 11 percent undecided.

Peterson told board members the survey showed that $47.1 million is a “bit high,” and they will need to pare their proposal to see support at the polls.

She also pointed out that they could expect to see support at the polls. The support to “do something” is strong enough, but it’s impossible to know what level of taxation would be approved, she explained.

“I can’t say $42 million will work,” said Peterson when asked what amount would be supported. “I can say $47.1 million is too high. That I can tell you.”

The survey found stronger support for the school projects from parents with children in school, but she urged board members to focus on the numbers from residents without children. The latter represent over 75 percent of those who will go to the polls and largely decide the outcome of a bond referendum.

The survey also disappointed board members in its findings that support was not sufficient for projects to upgrade athletic facilities and replace the fine arts building.

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“Remember the data, the data doesn’t lie,” Peterson told board members. “So now it’s reverse-engineering your solution based on what you learned from the survey.”

She suggested that the school could find voter support for a scaled-down project to build a new elementary, and possibly a second, separate bond question on making safety and security improvements.

Superintendent Heller said board members will return to the planning process with the information. They intend to take up discussions at a Nov. 4 work session.

The survey was based on responses from 875 residents, which is a 25 percent participation rate and is considered above average, according to Peterson.

Related Topics: EDUCATION
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