By Bob Zientara
A bond referendum proposed for the Cameron School District this spring would – if successful – raise an estimated $6 million to replace outdated environmental controls and fire alarms, make needed roof repairs and improve security at school entrances, according to district sources and private contractors.
But that’s only the first portion of what could be a pair of referendums that would ultimately raise roughly $20 million, according to information provided by the contractors and a task force of citizens and school employees.
Since last fall, the group has worked with a Madison-based consultant to study district needs and to help a second consultant put together a district-wide online survey that was completed last November.
The Cameron School Board is scheduled to take an up or down vote on the first referendum when it meets in regular monthly session on Monday, Jan. 23, 2023, according to Joe Leschisin, district administrator.
“The task force looked at three options,” Leschisin said Monday, Jan. 16.
• Do nothing at all.
• Go for the entire $20 million during the Spring Election on April 4, 2023.
• Try for something less than the full amount and wait until the Wisconsin Legislature adopts its next two-year budget – a process that’s expected to finish by June 30 of this year.
Based on the strong support from some 450 district residents in last November’s online survey (see infographic), the task force recommended that the first referendum address the most critical building needs – like replacing outdated fire alarms, replacing a nearly 30-year-old roof on the high school, and remodeling the high school entrance and main office to make them more secure and usable.
“In the meantime, the group will continue to meet and plan a November 2024 second-round referendum for additional facility needs and potential operating needs,” Leschisin added.
“The reason why we aren’t looking at operations this spring ... is that ... we won’t know our needs until the Legislature adopts the next budget.”
The district has been using federal COVID-19 relief funds to help with operating costs including salaries, benefits, and some equipment purchases. That funding – estimated at $500,000 – runs out in 2024.
A second consultant – Slinger, Wis.-based School Perceptions, Inc., conducted the November 2022 survey. Results were broken down into categories which show how much referendum support that the district can expect from people connected directly with the schools (like parents and school employees) as opposed to other taxpayers who don’t have a close relationship with the district.
“A key statistic was (the response from) non-parent, non-staff (respondents),” Leschisin said. Survey results show that an estimated 56 percent of those taxpayers said they’d support a total referendum package in the neighborhood of $20 million, he added.
Given that support, and knowing that the Legislature holds the key to future Cameron school budgets, drove the decision to approach the referendum in two steps, Leschisin said.
The task force recommended that “rather than be aggressive this spring, let’s target what we need to do sooner, and then wait for the next biennial budget,” he said. “The board and the task force both know this is a two-part project.”
The task force will continue its work beyond the Spring 2023 election, and could take another community survey late next year, Leschisin added.