Nov. 6 will be a pivotal day for the future of the Gibraltar School District.
Two referenda questions will go before voters in the district that day, one to fund ongoing operational expenses, and one to fund a transformation of the school’s library and media center.
That renovation will include not just the library, but the surrounding classrooms that were built in 1971 as part of an open-plan high school, considered state-of-the-art at the time. The design put the library in the center of a block of classrooms separated by bookshelves, not walls. It was meant to improve collaboration among students, and among teachers.
“It didn’t work,” said Fred Anderson, a 1976 Gibraltar graduate who is now a school board member.
That layout lasted about five years before it was scrapped due to distractions and noise issues. Paneled walls were erected, but those didn’t fix the noise problems, and the makeshift building it created left a lot to be desired aesthetically.
Open-plan schools were abuzz in the midst of the 1970s energy crisis, and limited the use of windows. At Gibraltar the result is that nearly all of the high school classrooms have no exterior windows providing natural light, even though the school is nestled into Peninsula State Park.
The school board and committees have been refining designs for the remodel since 2012, aiming to bring natural light into the library space and adjoining classrooms by raising the roof, and turn the space into “a truly functional high school library with current technology in a collaborative learning space,” Anderson said.
“The existing library has never been the space it should have been,” he said. “If you’ve been in there, it’s pretty depressing. We want to give students an experience and environment like they’ll expect in their post-secondary education.”
The plan would also include installation of wiring to make it ready for solar panel installation down the road.
The renovation would cost $4.5 million, or $29 per $100,000 in equalized home value over five years.
High School Principal Gereon Methner said the renovation would provide students with a 21st century learning environment.
“Think about how we access information now, in 1997 we didn’t have all this information at our fingertips,” he said. “For example, even in classes like a health class, we’re transitioning toward teaching about skills about healthy lifestyles and choices, not just all the facts. We don’t need a card catalog table. It’s not the searching for facts anymore, that’s at your fingertips. It’s how to put those facts into practice.”
In planning, school officials toured other facilities, including NWTC’s new facility in Sturgeon Bay, and came to the realization that Gibraltar’s learning environment may not be preparing students for the learning environments they will experience in their next educational step.
“We need spaces that are collaboration based, ways to take that knowledge they’re gaining and apply it,” Methner said. “It’s different now than when I was in college. Computer labs don’t exist anymore, people have their own devices.”
The other Gibraltar question for voters in November is an operational referendum that would be added to the recurring referendum approved by 67 percent of voters in 2012. From 1998-2012, the district went to referendum to exceed the state-imposed levy caps every two years.
In 2012 voters approved a recurring referendum to increase the levy $2,875,000 every year, essentially setting the 2010 funding level as the new baseline for the school. The school has not gone to referendum since 2012, but is now asking voters to approve an additional $1.4 million in 2019, $2.8 million in 2020, and $4.2 million in 2021 and thereafter.
That equates to $85 per $100,000 in equalized value.
The operational referendum goes toward maintaining current programming and staffing levels. Superintendent Tina Van Meer said via email that 80 percent of the district’s budget is allocated to salary and benefits.
“The operational referendum allows us to maintain our high-quality teachers and support staff,” she wrote. “Should the operational referendum fail, the district would be forced to make difficult decisions regarding staffing and programs.”
Gibraltar spends much more per pupil than the state average. In 2015-16, Gibraltar spent $17,133 per pupil, compared to the state average of $10,312. Sevastopol spent $13,985, Sturgeon Bay $10,926, and Southern Door $9,821.
Van Meer said the isolated, rural nature of Gibraltar combined with its smaller enrollment makes it more costly to provide a top level education for its students.
“Small rural schools struggle to provide the same educational opportunities as larger districts with more resources,” Van Meer said. In the past year, increases to salaries and benefits came to nearly $700,000, a number Van Meer expects to rise 5 percent each year for the next three years.
As the school’s enrollment has declined, programming and staffing levels have not. To keep pace with the demands of the college admissions process, Gibraltar has maintained numerous advanced placement classes and has maintained class sizes of 11 – 13 students per classroom. Van Meer also pointed to the increasing necessity for technology education for increasing costs. The school provides access to tablets for all students, and training and professional development for teachers to implement technology education in the classroom.
Gibraltar School Referendum Questions
Shall the School District of Gibraltar Area, Door County, Wisconsin be authorized to exceed the revenue limit specified in Section 121.91, Wisconsin Statutes, by $1,400,000 in the 2019-2020 school year and by an additional $1,400,000 a year in each of the 2020-2021 and 2021-2022 school years (for a total of $4,200,000 for the 2021-2022 school year and thereafter), for recurring purposes consisting of funding educational programming for students?
Shall the School District of Gibraltar Area, Door County, Wisconsin be authorized to issue pursuant to Chapter 67 of the Wisconsin Statutes, general obligation bonds in an amount not to exceed $4,500,000 for the public purpose of paying the cost of a school improvement program consisting of: remodeling and renovations fo the Library Media Center (LMC) and classrooms; upgrades for safety and security; other capital and building improvements, including creation of additional meeting and support space; and acquisition of furnishings, fixtures, and equipment?