Oshkosh schools look to community to support $107.4 million referendum




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Editor’s notice: This story is the primary in a two-part sequence a couple of proposed restructuring within the Oshkosh Space Faculty District, waiting for a $107.four million referendum in November. Half 2 will discover the function of neighborhood faculties and group response.

OSHKOSH – Faculty leaders suggest closing three faculties and constructing two new ones within the first section of a sweeping 10- to 20-year plan designed to dig deeper into cost-effective methods to arrange college students for the long run.

The college board on Wednesday accepted the plan and initiated the primary section that requires a $107.four million referendum Nov. three and impacts elementary and center faculties on town’s north and east sides.

Webster Stanley center and Washington and Merrill elementary faculties would shut. A brand new center faculty can be constructed on the location of Merrill elementary and center faculty to host Merrill and Webster center faculty college students. A brand new elementary faculty can be constructed on the location of Webster elementary and center faculty to deal with Webster, Washington and a few Merrill elementary college students.

The method started with a 2017 examine of the district’s buildings that discovered Oshkosh has extra services than surrounding districts which can be on common smaller, older and fewer environment friendly to function. It estimates that current prices for bettering security, accessibility and upkeep can be $115 million alone.

If the district completes all phases of the plan, it could shut six faculties and scale back the variety of its services from 20 to 14. Officers say fewer, newer and bigger faculties can be more cost effective to function and could be outfitted with the most recent security and know-how options.

Earlier this yr, officers thought-about placing a smaller referendum on the April poll however put the brakes on that plan after receiving suggestions that the group wanted extra data and that a number of poll measures may not be efficient.

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A group survey in November drew four,655 responses, with 52 % supporting a capital referendum to replace current and/or construct new faculties. Nearly all of respondents inspired the district to pursue reconfiguring faculties — versus sustaining all faculties — however had been not sure about the perfect method.

A services advisory committee comprised of dad and mom and group stakeholders studied a for much longer checklist of initiatives — which included faculty consolidation and constructing new faculties — throughout conferences held final yr. However committee members felt there could possibly be lack of help for brand spanking new faculties and really useful holding again the reconfiguration plan till a later date, mentioned Sue Schnorr, the district’s enterprise supervisor.

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This desk exhibits the Oshkosh Space Faculty District’s checklist of services wants by faculty. (Photograph: Sharon Roznik/USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin)

“We had this plan to go additional however in phases,” Schnorr mentioned. “Then we began listening to from individuals who instructed us now’s the appropriate time to do extra.”

The Oshkosh4Education Commission, a local advocacy group dedicated, in part, to tracking the district’s progress on its strategic plan, stepped forward and asked the district to stay on course. In January 2019 the district and the commission developed a five-year plan that calls for, among other things, “maximizing efficiencies in school buildings and creating a future ready school system.”

“Oshkosh4Education said they would support us moving forward,” Schnorr said. “So we took that advice and decided to put everything on the referendum.”

The group aims to foster communication between the school district and the community, commission Chair Trisha Castle said. The strategic plan is key, she said, because its development included community discussions that brought to the forefront what residents wanted for their school district.

“We stand by this new referendum because it comes straight from the strategic plan,” Castle said. “People told us they don’t want to go back to referendum again and again, they don’t want something piecemealed together. They said let’s go for it all, really put our foot on the gas.”

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An entrance at Merrill Middle School in Oshkosh is too far away from the office, where visitor’s need to check in. A proposed $107.4 million dollar referendum includes plans to update safety and security at several schools. (Photo: Doug Raflik/USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin)

Tearing down old to make way for new

Just what that “everything” would entail went through a lengthy, decision-making process, starting with a 2017 facilities condition assessment/facilities study, led by Bray and Associates Architects Inc. The 542-page document, posted on the school district’s website, outlines — in extensive detail — the needs at each of the city’s 20 schools.

School Board President Barb Herzog said meeting basic maintenance and structural needs at every school, without renovations, would cost more than $100 million.  

With the hefty document in hand, facilities committee members analyzed, prioritized and came up with what they felt were cost-effective consolidation recommendations to maximize use, reuse and/or replace existing buildings.

The committee recommended a long-term consolidation plan for 14 schools, rather than 20, including nine elementary schools (five on the west side, one on the north), three middle schools (two on the west, one north), along with the two high schools.

Overall, the committee concluded $107.4 million would cover what would have been included in the first referendum, ($11 million for safety/security, $10.1 million for maintenance) along with the construction of two new schools.

This slide shows the proposed reorganization of schools in the Oshkosh Area School District as proposed by the facilities advisory committee. (Photo: Courtesy of the Oshkosh Area School District)

On the district’s north side, an 850-student middle school would be built on the existing site to serve students from both Merrill and Webster Stanley middle schools, for a cost of around $59.6 million.

Elementary students would feed into the school from Oaklawn, Read, Emmeline Cook and Webster elementary schools, and Washington Elementary would be shut down. A new, $26.7 million elementary school would be built on the Webster Stanley site.

Cost of the revamped referendum for property owners living the district would be about $98 a year for each $100,000 of equalized value for the next 20 years, Schnorr said. 

The second phase of the master plan also proposes future changes to the south and west sides as well, with students from Oakwood, Carl Traeger, Franklin, Jefferson and Lakeside elementary schools feeding into Carl Traeger Middle School, along with a new South Park Middle School.

Roosevelt Elementary would be shut down, and Shapiro STEM School and Perry Tippler Middle School would be repurposed.

Today’s students have different needs

Purposeful spaces are needed to accommodate evolving technology and promote collaboration among students, staff, parents and community, the committee concluded.

Many Oshkosh schools are pieced together with additions and house undersized and outdated classrooms. It’s the same situation with support areas, like kitchens, classrooms and gyms.

The school district is serving a greater number of students with complex disabilities, and some schools lack space for therapy, medical services and individual instruction. With the proposed plan, behavior interventionists would be available to more students.

Deputy Superintendent David Gundlach said larger schools do not mean more heavily populated classrooms. The district has capped classroom size in the school district to 24 students in kindergarten through third grade and 27 students in fourth grade and up.

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“Balancing class sizes in smaller schools can prove difficult,” Gundlach said. “Bigger schools can offer more sections of a grade, and we don’t have to spread some staff across smaller sites.”

Staff members with specialized training, like the school nurse, must now split their time among the schools, creating concerns when emergency needs arise.

During a January meeting, School Board Vice President Kelly Olmsted said she worries about having too many referendums. The district has already asked the community to vote on ballot measures in 2012, 2014 and 2016. All three passed.

“Neighboring towns are passing referendums and buildings new schools,” board member Stephanie Carlin said. “If we continue to wait, we are getting behind.”

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Small, cramped work spaces with limited airflow are not unusual at some of the city’s older schools, like this space found at Merrill Middle School. (Photo: Doug Raflik/USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin)

Plans will take years to complete

Ideally, the long-term reconfiguration plan would be spread over 10 years, Schnorr said. Merrill Middle School was chosen first because it is the oldest middle school requiring the most expensive upgrades. A new middle school would be built on the same site.

Along with Washington Elementary, Webster Stanley Middle School is also slated for closure. According to the proposal, a new Webster Stanley would house elementary students, including students from Washington. Merrill Elementary students would be distributed among Webster Stanley, Emmeline Cook, Reed and Oaklawn elementary schools. The district would need to determine new borders within city neighborhoods, Schnorr said.

“It requires a multiyear process to make this all happen,” she said. “Both schools won’t be built at the same time because of all the moves and transitions.”

A second building phase would be based on how the first phase goes, Schnorr said, and would require another referendum. It involves the school district’s west side, with a renovated and enlarged South Park Middle School. Perry Tippler Middle School could potentially close, and Roosevelt Elementary School and Shapiro STEM repurposed.

Farther down the road, something needs to be done at the high schools, Schnorr said. West was never well-designed, with lots of windows and courtyards spread throughout the building. North is worn and outdated, according to the long-range facilities study.

The future depends on community input, Schnorr said. Moving forward means scheduling public forums and making presentation to groups by request.

“Is the community ready to plunge forward or do they need some time,” Schnorr said. “They will be the ones driving how fast or slow we can make this all happen.”

More information can be found on the school district’s website, www.oshkosh.k12.wi.us.

Oshkosh Area School District referendum history at a glance

  • April 5, 2016: $28 million to exceed revenue caps by $4 million annually for seven years. Passed.
  • April 1, 2014: $27,650,000 to pay for operations and maintenance costs and acquisition of technology equipment. Passed.
  • April 3, 2012: $12,995,000 to build new elementary school to replace Oaklawn school. Passed
  • April 7, 2009: $2.5 million for small additions and renovations to existing school facilities and equipment acquisition. Failed.
  • April 7, 2009: $6.5 million to pay the cost of deferred maintenance on school facilities. Passed.
  • April 7, 2009: $15 million to construct a new elementary school. Failed.
  • Nov. 6, 2001: $2.1 million operation and maintenance costs related to new Sunset Elementary School and other additions. Failed.
  • Nov. 2, 2001: $12,860,000 to construct new Sunset Elementary School, and additions at Lakeside, Oaklawn, Oakwood and Washington elementary schools, and acquisition of land related to additions. Failed.
  • Nov. 3, 1998: $5.3 million for a new elementary school. Passed.
  • Nov. 3, 1998: $8.5 million to add to and remodel middle school, technology infrastructure. Passed.
  • Nov. 7, 1995: $25.9 million, 550-student elementary school, 600-student middle school. Passed.

Source: Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction 

Contact Sharon Roznik at 920-907-7936 or [email protected]. Follow her on Facebook at facebook.com/reporterroz.

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