The November election could be the dawn of a new day for Sevastopol School, or the start of a new conversation about the future of the district.
District residents will vote on a $25.1 million referendum to renovate facilities at the school with upgrades that administrators and school board members say are desperately needed. The project would include demolishing the portions of the school constructed in 1924 and 1946 that superintendent Kyle Luedtke said are no longer adequate for modern education.
“Renovating those sections to bring them up to modern codes and standards would be cost-prohibitive,” Luedtke said. “Structurally, this building is not up to today’s standards.”
The new sections would house special education and elementary classrooms, as well as new homes for industrial arts, exploratory, and fab lab (a digital fabrication lab for design and construction).
The school got a big boost Oct. 15 when Therma-Tron-X, Inc., a local manufacturing company that specializes in industrial finishing systems, water treatment and wastewater treatment systems, announced it will donate $2 million to the Sevastopol School District to enhance the technology education rooms, fab labs, and science wing. The donation is contingent on the district passing both the facilities and the operational referendum.
“They’re a local company and they believe in our school and we’re thrilled to have both a donor and a business partner,” Luedtke said.
“If we can have a homegrown workforce for them, and they can offer workers a quality of life and a great living, it’s a win for everybody.”
“Therma-Tron-X prides itself on its strong commitment to the community,” said Brad M. Andreae, president/COO at Therma-Tron-X. “With all the exciting school updates proposed in the upcoming referendum, we wanted to invest in the future of not only the students, but our workforce and local economy. Hopefully this donation will encourage others to donate and more importantly encourage the community to get out and vote to support the referendum.”
The school would also get significant safety and security upgrades through the referendum funding, including a new elementary school secure entrance to control visitor access. If approved the project would be completed in 2021. The project is a drastically scaled back version of plans the school has discussed since 2013 that initially called for building a completely new school for $57 million.
The tax impact for the $25 million school project would be approximately $120 annually on a $100,000 home.
That won’t be the only Sevastopol School question on the ballot. The district is also seeking approval of a $2 million operational referendum for each of the next two school years. That referendum would fund educational and maintenance expenses at the school in excess of the state-imposed revenue limits that have been in place since 1993.
“This is now the manner in which we fund our schools,” Luedtke said. “Our four referendums have all passed by 72 percent or greater. The people of our district have invested in this school in the past and I would anticipate they will in the future.”
Schools in Door County and throughout the state have been forced to fund programs through referendums in large part due to declining enrollment. The state’s funding formula reduces state aid on a per pupil basis when enrollment declines, but for schools, costs don’t drop at the same rate.
Sevastopol enrollment peaked at 689 students in 1996-97, and has dropped steadily ever since, to 599 students today. Thirty-two of those students are in 4-year-old kindergarten, which didn’t exist at Sevastopol in 1996-97.
Enrollment at Door County’s five school districts declined by 1,077 students from 1997 to 2016. But school boards, administrators and residents have shown little interest in consolidation due to school pride, potential expenses, and in part due to practical concerns.
Luedtke said Gibraltar School District was not interested in taking part in consolidation talks, and discussions with Sturgeon Bay determined it wasn’t practical. Enrollment at the schools has not shrunk enough that there would be enough space to eliminate one of the three, and Luedtke said the 10-year projection is for the Sevastopol district to maintain more than 500 students.
“If down the road we need to consolidate, they’d still use this facility, because neither Gibraltar or Sturgeon Bay can handle all of our students at this time,” he said. Politically there has been little push for consolidation from Sevastopol residents.
“We’re not interested in consolidating because we lose our tradition and our identity,” Luedtke said. “We’re the Pioneers, and no one is interested in that disappearing.”
The operational referendum would add $33 in taxes per $100,000 in home value per year.