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Baraboo School Board group meets with community to talk possible referendum

October 13, 2018

NORTH FREEDOM — In an effort to increase community awareness of a potential school referendum, a Baraboo School Board committee and administrators are making the rounds to local government meetings, informal gatherings and other avenues of informing the public.

Two members of an ad hoc committee, Kevin Vodak and Sean McNevin, explained the scope of the previous referendums and the possibility the district may seek additional funds for improvements at the high school and middle school Monday to the North Freedom Village Board.

Both emphasized the importance of the public learning each school’s needs before filling out a survey they expected to be mailed to district residents this week. The survey, conducted by research firm School Perceptions of Slinger, seeks to gather input on what people want to see from the school district and measure whether they would approve a referendum. Completed surveys should be returned by 5 p.m. Nov. 5.

“You know, people still don’t know this is coming, and the survey is going to come in the mail,” Vodak said. “We’re trying to make sure that people understand the importance of taking the time to look it over, whatever they think.”

Whether the school board moves ahead with putting a referendum on the April ballot — and what it asks for — depends on the survey results.

“This is all up to the public,” McNevin told the village board. “These are group buildings. These are your investments to make.”

Building improvements stemmed from a long-range plan made in 2012. The district first focused on maintenance issues and safety and security upgrades at multiple buildings by borrowing $9.95 million in 2014.

In 2016, voters approved borrowing $21.95 million for projects at the high school, including additions such as increasing the size of the cafeteria and renovations, all of which wrapped up this summer “on time and on budget,” McNevin said.

“If you haven’t had an opportunity to go through the high school, please take the time,” he said. “It’s an amazing investment.”

Now moving toward its third phase, the plan would be to make additional changes at the high school to benefit the agriculture program and co-curriculars, then move on to Jack Young Middle School.

McNevin noted when the high school was built in the 1960s with a single gymnasium, it housed 600 students and only seven varsity sports. Now, that same gym has to contend with 25 varsity sports and 1,000 students, so the plan calls for adding a couple of basketball courts.

The ag program has also grown more popular over the years but still has only one teacher, McNevin said, and needs more classrooms and lab space.

At the middle school, the project would seek to add more space, upgrade the HVAC system and lighting, replace the indoor ramp system which isn’t “conducive to the proper flow of that building” and find a solution to the modular curtains that stand in for walls, McNevin said.

“Every teacher can be heard on that floor in every classroom, including the center library, and it makes it real difficult,” he said, especially for students meeting with counselors and psychologists. “So that’s an environment that’s gotta change.”

The district’s elementary schools would be next on the docket once phase three is completed.

Tasked with presenting information on project plans, listening to community feedback and reflecting on that feedback, the temporary ad hoc committee consists of Vodak, McNevin and Mike Kohlman.

Village board members declined to ask the visiting presenters any questions or offer feedback Monday, but North Freedom Elementary Principal Kathy Andreasen, who assisted with the presentation, said the board is “very supportive” of the school district.

School board members have planned more community engagement meetings, including one during each building’s parent-teacher conferences, according to District Administrator Lori Mueller.

Next week, the committee will present to a group of realtors at 9:30 a.m. Tuesday at the BHS library, followed by a tour, and about a modernized community campus at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday at the middle school. The group also will update the full school board at a meeting Monday.

Previous meetings included an early morning coffee clutch at a Methodist church, meeting with the Lions Club and high school staff and speaking on the air at WRPQ, Vodak said.

Mueller noted “the community in Baraboo has been fantastic” in terms of being open to hearing about a potential referendum.

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