Leaders Make Rounds Promoting Two Referenda

Southern Door’s pitch: Neither would change the current tax rate

Southern Door school officials continued to intensify a campaign for a pair of tax referenda this fall as early voting commenced and the Nov. 8 Election Day approaches.

District officials attended Union, Gardner and Brussels town board meetings the week of Oct. 10 and Forestville and Nasewaupee town meetings the week of Oct. 17. The district will also host an open house Oct. 24.

Teachers and administrators recorded a series of videos to appear on the district’s Facebook page to explain how certain sections of the school need upgrades, expansion, modernization or relocation. 

Middle school principal Brenda Shimon appeared Oct. 13 in the first video. She discussed issues in her portion of the school, including family and consumer education, which has electrical service near water fixtures and is not set up well for teachers to demonstrate cooking methods.

Southern Door School District voters will see two questions on their ballot. The first asks for the authority to exceed the revenue limit by $975,000 per year for three years beginning with 2023-24 to pay for operational costs. That referendum would replace and match the one that’s set to expire this year.

The second question asks voters for the authority to borrow $14.9 million to pay the cost of a school-building and facility-improvement project consisting of district-wide remodeling, classroom updates and capital maintenance, building systems, safety and site improvements, construction of a sports training facility at the high school and the acquisition of furnishings, fixtures and equipment. 

Southern Door Superintendent Chris Peterson said a primary question he’s heard during the informational tour is how it’s possible that the mill rate would not increase if voters approve both the operational and capital-improvement referendum questions.

He said the district preemptively answered those questions from the start. District officials, including business manager Jason Melotte, emphasized that persistent pre-payment of debt during recent years will make it possible for the district to take on new debt for more campus improvements without increasing the tax rate for debt service.

During this year alone, the district is paying down between $1.5 million and $1.8 million, Melotte said. That would cut Southern Door’s debt on previous capital projects to $2 million, he said, noting that the approximate $800,000 in costs of an energy-savings project accounts for the rest of the district’s outstanding debt. Melotte said the state reimburses Southern Door when the district turns in documentation of its energy savings.

When asked whether any residents have asked why the district is seeking the capital improvements during a time of inflation, rising interest rates and high building-materials costs, Peterson said, “We really haven’t had that question.”

Peterson said many residents have asked why the district needs to move the fitness center that’s in the front of the building. Peterson explained that the school needs more parking in front; the district office ideally should not occupy an old house in front of the school; and demolition of the district office will make way for much-needed parking.

In addition, he said, the district office should occupy the modern, secure space currently designated for the fitness center. Moving the fitness center, weight room and indoor practice facility into a building addition behind the school would also increase convenience for district residents who currently use the fitness center but can’t do so during school hours. The district could lock off the proposed building and cordon off the practice facility in such a way that the public could access it during school hours, Peterson said.

He said that unlike a project to build an entire new school, the referendum-funded amount for the capital projects would stay firm at $14.9 million. Rather than requesting funds for just one big project, Southern Door has a wish list of projects, so if work comes in under budget, the district could select additional ones, such as a greenhouse and a garage with enough room for work on one district-owned bus at a time.