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Montello School District seeks $4.5M construction referendum in November

October 3, 2018

MONTELLO – Substantial flooding in Montello provided a stern reminder of the need to upgrade school property, Superintendent Margaret Banker said.

In a construction referendum Nov. 6 the Montello School District is seeking to borrow $4.5 million over 10 years for capital improvement projects including updates to its roof, heating, ventilation and air conditioning equipment, plumbing, carpeting and fire alarm system.

Improvements to the district’s 209,000-square-foot building would be “instrumental in keeping our students safe, warm and dry,” Banker said.

The district houses approximately 700 students in grades Pre-K through 12.

If the referendum passes, Montello School District taxpayers would see an increase of 61 cents per $1,000 of property value, according to district projections.

The same construction referendum failed by 14 votes in April. Regardless of whether the referendum succeeds in November, the district expects its 2018-19 school tax rate to be less than last year’s rate of $9.54 due to the repayment of debt, Banker said.

More than $3 million in the referendum would be spent on repairing outdated HVAC systems, particularly in the elementary portion of the building that dates back to 1963, said Rick Retelle, director of buildings and grounds.

Due to its age, the district often struggles to find the right parts for HVAC repairs. “It’s hard even finding qualified technicians who know how to work on it,” Retelle said.

Montello is in the third and final year of an operational referendum that residents approved in 2016, allowing the district to exceed the revenue limit by $1.2 million per year for three years. The district, Banker said, has no plans for seeking another operational referendum due to “great strides” it has made in boosting its fund balance.

Montello will hold an informational session on the referendum at 6 p.m. Oct. 23 in the main building at 222 Forest Lane.

At 7 p.m. that same evening, the district hosts its annual meeting.

Local flooding

More than 100 Montello businesses and families experienced substantial flooding, Banker said. From Aug. 29 to Sept. 1, Montello School District served as a disaster relief station for the American Red Cross.

“We provided resources and support to residents in a time of crisis,” Banker said of this period, noting how several teachers filled sandbags to drive back flood waters in downtown Montello.

Flooding was so bad in Montello the school district moved its start date from Sept. 4 to Sept. 10. This was due largely to the closure of the Highway 22 bridge -- “The main artery for our busing routes,” Banker said.

Regular busing routes resumed Sept. 17.

“It’s been a collaborative effort across the county and within our community to withstand the flooding,” Banker said. “Through this experience we recognized more than ever that our schools are the heart of the community and essential for building and rebuilding a strong Montello.”

Record referendums

A new report says Wisconsin schools are asking taxpayers across the state to approve $1.4 billion in referendums this November.

The Wisconsin Policy Forum report released Wednesday says approving at least $1.1 billion of the ballot measures to borrow money or exceed state-imposed revenue limits would set a record.

The report says residents in 61 of the state’s 421 public school districts will vote on 82 questions. That is in addition to 74 referendums that were on ballots in elections earlier this year.

-- The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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