The Sevastopol School District is planning an educational campaign about the need for a major building upgrade before it asks voters to approve a referendum for up to $34 million.
The Sevastopol School Board was presented with two referenda options at its Jan. 7 meeting.
No. 1 was to seek a $26.9 million general obligation bond to upgrade the 1924 vintage school. No. 2 was a $34 million bond that included the addition of a community auditorium.
In November the district sent out a survey to school district taxpayers to gauge support for the proposal.
“It seems like the community isn’t ready to support it,” said board member Lisa Bieri. “It seems like the survey doesn’t have the full support of the community, so we need to set a plan to help the community understand the needs here.”
Bieri also suggested a salaries and benefits plan should be in place before moving on the school, and she also wanted to know the costs of things such as custodial services and utilities for the new building “because that’s going to play into our operational referendum, and I think that’s a question the community is going to have.”
She added that several people have suggested that instead of an auditorium, the school should build another gymnasium with a stage area “so that structure isn’t used just as a performance center.”
Board Vice President Dick Weidman said some people have expressed the opinion that the board hasn’t spent enough time discussing the building proposal, but added that as a member of the Buildings & Grounds Committee, the school’s deficiencies have been a topic of discussion for at least the last four years.
“A lot of those deficiencies are due to inaction,” he said, with additions “scabbed” onto the original 1924 building.
“It’s kind of built up to this point where we have a lot of space needs,” he said.
Bieri said that is exactly why an education program is needed to enlighten the Sevastopol community about the need to upgrade the school “and how strongly the children are affected by those needs.”
“There will be people out there who will not be swayed by anything. Then there’s other people, we just have to shine a light on the situation we have,” Weidman said.
“The unfortunate part is the survey was not in our favor,” said board member Mark Herrell, and indicated that too many people focused on the nearly $7 million auditorium, which he described as more of a “want” than a “need.”
“If you go for option 2, it’s almost assured not to pass, according to the survey,” he said, while option 1 might have a better chance.
Herrell also suggested the vote be delayed until April 2017 so the district had more than a full year to educate the public.
“A lot of people don’t see the educational value of an auditorium. They look it as a luxury item,” Weidman said. “They don’t see the academic value of a strong music program, a strong drama program. I don’t know what it takes to impress upon people the academic value of fine arts. We certainly need engineers and scientists and everybody in the STEM area, but we also need people in the fine arts area. To me that should be a big part of our push. Emphasize to people, especially in Door County, we have such a rich fine arts atmosphere.”
“But our community needs to want it and that’s where our education comes in,” Bieri said.
School Board President Sue Todey pointed out that according to an article in a publication called High School Today, performing arts students develop valuable skills for all kinds of careers.
Board member Jane Luebker recalled that she attended a high school with an auditorium and remembers how empowering it was for her and others to stand on the stage and recite or perform.
“I’m tired of being part of a community that says ‘That’s good enough’,” Luebker said.
Board member Jay Zahn said building another gym with a stage is not a solution and if the auditorium is not included in the referendum, “we won’t see an auditorium in our lifetime.”
Weidman said the district could educate informed voters in time for the April election.
“In two months, can we change the survey results?” Bieri asked.
“I’m confident we can do that,” he said.
Todey said she has a friend who secures large grants for school districts who is interested in helping Sevastopol. She also suggested they could offer naming rights for donors and give people the chance to buy auditorium seats to help pay for the project.
Ultimately, the board decided to table any decisions on the referendum until the Jan. 14 meeting.