Special Report: You Paid For It: School Buildings


GREEN BAY, Wis. (WFRV) Voters in Green Bay, Appleton, Ashwaubenon and Howard -Suamico school districts have some tough choices to make in the weeks ahead.  On whether or not to support bonding for school upgrades totaling roughly $83 million.  The improvements include boilers, technology, windows and even pools. They are projects the districts say are long overdue. 

During the next few nights - Local 5's Kris Schuller will explore these upcoming referendums in his special report: You Paid for It - School Buildings.

"This is a competitive pool - so the deck in fairly small," said Superintendent Damian LaCroix of the Howard-Suamico School District.

Talk to any school district administrator and they will tell you school referendums are not taken lightly.

"This is the result of a lot of thought and a lot of study," LaCriox said.

But when school facilities age to the point of requiring major repairs, state law requires educators to go voters and win their support, before borrowing anything over $1million.

"We know this is a lot to ask- but were looking at this as something that is absolutely crucial," said Greg Hartjes, principal of Appleton West High School.

In Appleton, it's a $30 million decision - as the district looks to improve aging facilities, strengthen building security and replace aging technology.  

"Maintaining all of our buildings is like maintaining 2,300 average sized homes," said Ben Vogel, assistant superintendent for the Appleton Area School District.

In Green Bay, a $20 million referendum will ask voters to replace this 56-year-old boiler system in Franklin Middle School, in service since the school first opened.

"When its cold, its cold and when it's hot, it's hot," said Ron Huisheere, an instructor at Franklin.

Just one improvement among six Green Bay schools.

"The learning environment should be conducive to learning - not an obstruction to education," said Franklin Principal Sandy Beyers.

In the coming weeks school referendums will be held in the Appleton, Green Bay, Ashwaubenon and Howard-Suamico school districts. The projects all different, yet each - except Green Bay's - would raise a property owners property tax - if approved.

Annual increases on a $150,000 home could hit $13.50 in Howard-Suamico and $118 dollars in Appleton. Taxes could go up $75 in Ashwaubenon on a $100,000 home. Green Bay says taxes won't go up because the district has paid down debt and can borrow without increasing the burden on taxpayers.

Together- these districts serve roughly 46,000 students.

"It's a way for the communities to go directly to their citizens and ask them should we make these improvements," said Richard Parins of the Brown County Taxpayers Association. "And it's also an affirmation - do you think we're doing a decent job."

Parins says borrowing makes sense if the improvements are big-ticket items, have a shelf life exceeding the terms of the bond and improve the learning environment.

"You go for boilers and windows, HVAC systems - those are required items - you just can't get around those," Parins said.

 However, Parins says taxpayers may view some items - like pools or computers - as wants instead of needs. In both Howard-Suamico and Ashwaubenon school districts, pool improvement projects are going before voters for facilities district officials say serve the entire community.

 "We've got active older adults in the morning, summer school program pretty robust, and 5th and 6th intermediate students, 900 of them," said Damian LaCroix

"This pool is used 50-percent of the time by the Park and Rec. Department," said Ashwaubenon Village President, Mike Aubinger.

District officials say they have been reaching out to taxpayers, conducting surveys and holding public information meetings to prove all the projects are needed.

"A lot of these projects have been on the list for years and we've been maintaining them - as long as we can go," said Mike Stangel, director of planning for the Green Bay School District.

However, the outcome is always unknown.

"It's always hard to know what the voters will approve or not at any given time," said Green Bay School Board President, Brenda Warren.

And in the coming weeks voters will let each district know, if they've been successful in telling their story.

"How good a job did they do selling the necessity of these things to their communities - that will be proven out," said Richard Parins.

GREEN BAY, Wis. (WFRV) - Spring Elections are fast approaching and the Brown County Tax Payers Association is breaking down the cost of school referendums.

Voters in the Appleton, Green Bay, Ashwaubenon and Howard-Suamico school districts will be asked to approve school referendums, this next election.

Today, on Local 5 News at 4:00 p.m., Richard Parins, President of the Brown County Tax Payers Association, spoke about the cost to tax payers.

Tonight on Local 5 News at 10:00 p.m., Local 5's Kris Schuller will have much more on this Special Report: You Paid For It: School Buildings.

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