Back in April, during the spring election, voters rejected both Grantsburg School District’s referendum questions that were on the ballot. The first question was for over $17-million and dealt with renovating and updating facilities, while also decommissioning Nelson Elementary School. The second question was for over $4-million and addressed a second gymnasium at the high school.
At the most recent school board meeting on July 12, the board members spoke with John Huenink from Kraus-Anderson, to discuss the failed referendum, lessons learned and what their next steps may be on a possible future referendum.
Huenink told the board that one of the lessons learned is that the pandemic did not help a lot of the school districts in Wisconsin or Minnesota when it came to referendums.
“In Wisconsin, there were about 50-percent of the referendums passed, in Minnesota there were less than that, like 40-percent. Typically, 75-or-80-percent of referendums pass,” Huenink said, adding that most of the referendums that did pass in Wisconsin were small referendums.
One of the lessons learned for board president, Dave Dahlberg, was that he thought the marketing for the referendum went poorly the first time around, especially when it came to the phone list and calling individuals - it was outdated and not helpful.
“I think we need to do a better job with coming up with a way of contact for the constituents,” Dahlberg said.
Board member Brian Handy made the point that another lesson they learned is that they should have better explained taxes and mill rate to the voters.
“One of the biggest talking points I had with people was, of course, don’t raise my taxes. My biggest rebuttal to that was, in 2014-15, your mill rate was over 10, now we’re at 7.5. You pass both parts of the referendum, you’re halfway there. Your taxes are still not close to what they were in 2014-15,” Handy said.
Another lesson learned that Huenink told the board about was that he believes they needed a little more emphasis on the Nelson School building and the issues that are still happening there with maintenance and the academic opportunities. Board member Chris Erickson agreed with this statement and said that she was hearing people ask why they had to close Nelson.
“To some people, there wasn’t enough justification, because you drive by, and it looks okay,” Erickson stated. “There has to be more put on, the age of it, and how much it would cost to put into that building to make it worthwhile.”
Jason Burke, another board member, was also on the same page and commented later in the meeting about the things they need to stress.
“It’s unanimous that we want to have the one campus. We need to make it very clear how much that school out there is costing us every year,” Burke said.
Superintendent Joshua Watt stated, “Our youngest and most vulnerable are in our worse and less least secure building.”
This was another reason they wanted to move the students together into the same campus.
“The needs aren’t going away, right? Whether it’s last year or ten years, five years from now, whenever - the elementary, Nelson, needs to be taken care of. Whether you decide to keep it and completely remodel it - not recommending that - or decommission it and bring the students over here,” Huenink told the board.
Huenink said there were maintenance items for the other schools as well within the first referendum question that still needs to be dealt with which aren’t going away either, as well as safety and security at the high school. He said that cost is continuing to go up on material as well, it’s not going down.
“The longer you put things off, the more things cost,” he added.
If the board decides to continue with another referendum, Huenink recommends bringing back the task force around September 2021, to discuss and begin tweaking the plan/referendum as needed, the school board reviews and discussions for the referendum would begin around November, they would call the referendum in December, and then they would start another referendum campaign from January to April.