Southland district favors renovation over new construction

After Monday night’s Southland School Board meeting, the direction in which the district needs to accommodate more students is clearer.

There was a 41 percent response rate for the Southland survey that was sent out in June and was conducted by School Perceptions, a data survey company in Wisconsin. 623 surveys were completed, according to Sue Peterson, strategic communications specialist for School Perceptions. From the data that was collected:

•29 percent of voters in the district were ages 65 and older, the largest demographic in the district

•93 percent of the survey participants lived within the Southland District

•25 percent of survey participants were from the city of Adams municipality

•63 percent said they were not parents of a Southland student

•55 percent of survey participants were generally “satisfied” with the Southland district

•About 12 percent of survey participants were either unsatisfied or very unsatisfied

The Southland School District has a tax tolerance of about $20 million

A facilities analysis of Southland Middle School was done in 2015, which identified a list of safety, security, infrastructure and building system needs along with educational deficiencies. The building was constructed in 1917, and additions and renovations happened in 1936, 1957, 1991 and 1994.

Where the community stands

Peterson shared that a significant portion of the community would support a bond referendum in November—the largest groups that showed support were 81 percent of district staff and 72 percent from parents—but the key is the right amount of money and who the majority of voters are.

From first glance, the data indicated that there was strong support for a new school, but the demographic of who shows up to the voter polls tells a different story.The largest group would be voters who aren’t parents or staff, and are ages 65 and older. While it’s possible to go for a $32 million project, the likelihood of it succeeding would be very slim, according to Peterson.

“This data is not representative of what happens at the polls,” she emphasized during the school board session. “Listen to the data.”

While there was strong support for building a new $32 million school, with district staff taxpayers making up 76 percent who would vote yes and parents voting yes at 54 percent, the data predicted that the referendum would have failed.

According to the data survey, 59 percent of non-parents and non-staff taxpayers would have voted against the project, and generally for all taxpayers, 47 percent would have also said no, defeating the 43 percent of all taxpayers who would have said yes. It was decided that option A for building a new school would be taken off the table completely.

“You guys are not there today,” Peterson said. “You are long ways from a tax tolerance to put a $32 million down for a new school.”

Option B

From what was presented, the board would most likely present an approximate $15.8 million bond referendum that would take care of the basic renovations of the middle and high school to accommodate the elementary school students who would be transferred to the Adams campus once the Rose Creek school closes in fall 2019.

There are also considerations to add a secondary question that would ask voters if they’d support an estimated $2.4 million additional gymnasium project. Sampson stated that even if the second question were to be voted down, the estimated $15.8 million renovations could still happen if the voters say yes. However, the gym project could not happen if the first part of the referendum failed.

These questions are likely to be formalized and approved by the Southland School Board at their next meeting in August.

Superintendent Jeff Sampson expressed that he was “very pleasantly surprised” by the amount of survey participation, which helped with providing more accurate portrayals of what the community wanted.

“I can tell how much support and care there is,” Sampson said. “We’re going to listen to what the survey said and reaffirm it at the ballot.”

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