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Monona Grove School District seeks new elementary school as part of $57 million referendum

October 11, 2018

To accommodate an expected growth in enrollment and address capital needs, the Monona Grove School District is asking residents to back a $57 million referendum on the ballot next month.

The $57 million in capital spending would go toward building an elementary school in Cottage Grove and to pay for other improvements, deferred maintenance projects and security upgrades throughout the district’s existing schools. The capital funding will be the first question of the two-part referendum to be decided in the Nov. 6 election.

A second question on the referendum proposes the school district raise the annual property tax revenue limit by $930,000 to operate the new elementary school.

If both questions on the referendum are approved, the district estimates a property tax increase of $75 per $100,000 in assessed property value.

“It’s not a secret that we have a growing community,” Monona Grove Superintendent Dan Olson said at a community meeting Tuesday. “Any decisions we make in regard to facilities has to go toward the mission of how we educate our kids.”

The capital funding would go toward constructing a $33.5 million elementary school in Cottage Grove near the middle school; $22 million for classroom renovations, mechanical and building repairs, and security upgrades across six school buildings; and $1.5 million to rebuild the high school’s track and install artificial turf at the stadium.

Cottage Grove resident Arnie Mohlman questioned the need for artificial turf and if “value engineering” the projects could lower the cost to taxpayers. He said he is unsure which way he’ll vote.

Monona Grove enrollment was about 3,300 students during the 2017-2018 school year and is projected to increase by about 700 students over the next decade, according to the school district.

Three school buildings — Taylor Prairie and Cottage Grove elementary schools and Glacial Drumlin Middle School, all in Cottage Grove — are expected to exceed their capacity in the next few years.

A new elementary school would allow for a re-configuration of grade levels served by the primary school buildings to meet the growing student body, Olson said.

One meeting attendee called the $33.5 million price “mind-boggling” for an elementary school, while another said he doesn’t want to have to build a school but understood the need for it.

The shift in grade levels would ensure that students from both Cottage Grove and Monona start middle school in sixth grade. Currently, Cottage Grove students enter middle school in fifth grade, and Monona students in sixth grade.

Gary Tresner, of the town of Cottage Grove, said he’s concerned about how the referendum would impact his tax bill, especially when he goes on a fixed income in a few years.

Olson said, if passed, the referendum would raise the district’s portion of property taxes initially, but it would decrease some after debt on the high school is paid off in two years and on the middle school in eight years.

The district was initially exploring an $87 million referendum, but that was dropped by $30 million because of feedback from the community about what the priorities should be, he said.

The referendum next month follows one district voters approved in April 2016 to increase the property tax revenue limit by $2.6 million annually for five years to address curriculum, technology and personnel needs, along with closing a $852,000 deficit.

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