MARINETTE — Parents and community members had the opportunity to virtually attend public information sessions Wednesday and Thursday regarding the Marinette School District’s rightsizing referendum. One session took place at noon, geared toward people who had been a part of the facilities advisory committee — those who were involved in the project since it began. Another took place later in the evening geared more towards parents, and one more took place Thursday evening for the community at large.
In the noon meeting on Wednesday, Superintendent Corry Lambie said if the referendum were to pass, the district would not immediately switch over to a four-building school configuration. “At the earliest that this would begin, it would be the 2022-23 school year, so we’ve got a couple of years for planning and designing before we’re at that point,” he said.
Additionally, he said the new configuration would see early childhood education through first grade move to Merryman Elementary School and second through fourth grades would be at Park Elementary School. Marinette Middle School and Marinette High School would remain the same. There would also be physical additions added to the elementary schools.
Lambie walked through some of the history of the project to bring the attendees up to speed on what has been done so far in the project’s lifespan. “We began with a facilities study that took over a year, and we found there are significant needs throughout the district, plus we had more space than students. With our declining enrollment, we’ve had less revenue; we’ve had $3.5 million less than we did in 2003. We asked community members and staff to help us solve this problem,” he said.
Lambie said keeping things the way they are now isn’t a fiscally responsible option due to the district’s declining enrollment, increasing operational expenses and the facilities in the district operating under capacity and in need of ongoing maintenance. “Our facilities are between 600 and 1,000 people under capacity. Our current roof upgrades at the middle school and high school would cost about $2.2 million as of today. Over a six-year span, it’s expected to increase up to $2.9 million for those two buildings,” he said.
Additionally, he said the recent graduating classes going out are larger than incoming Kindergarten classes, noting that the graduating class of 2017 had 172 students while that year’s incoming Kindergarten class had 125. He said state funding is largely tied to enrollment, and as enrollment decreases, so does the state funding.
“We want to provide a sustainable, excellent education program for our students, and in order to do that, our annual costs need to be in line with the anticipation of our lower enrollment that’s coming through our doors,” Lambie said.
Lambie brought up a few of the concerns that had been brought to the district from the community, including concerns about room for growth and costs of maintaining or disposing of the closed buildings. He said the first option for dealing with the vacated buildings would be to sell them to keep them in use by other organizations or other district groups, particularly with Garfield Elementary School. Another option, he said, would be to raze the buildings and return the money to the tax rolls.
Finance Director Sean Kelly touched on some of the financial concerns related to the project. He said the current opportunity to move the project forward is “tremendous.” He said: “This is as low as (interest rates) probably will go; I can’t imagine it would go lower. So if we would be endorsed to go ahead with this, we’re able to do it at a low fiscal option.”
He said the current cost estimate is about 93 cents per $1,000 equalized property value. “So you take a typical $100,000 home, and that’s a very common number that we have in the community here, that’s less than $8 per month of impact,” he said.
Lambie also provided the text of the referendum question as it will appear on the ballot Nov. 3. It reads: “Shall the Marinette School District, Marinette, Wisconsin be authorized to issue pursuant to Chapter 67 of the Wisconsin Statutes, general obligation bonds in an amount not to exceed $30,920,000 for the public purpose of paying the cost of a district-wide school facility improvement project consisting of: Construction of additions and improvements at Merryman Elementary School and Park Elementary School; remodeling and improvements at the middle school and the high school; and acquisition of furnishings, fixtures and equipment?”