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Chippewa Falls schools bring $65 million request to ballot

Fall Creek, Alma, Mondovi, Prairie Farm school districts also seek referendums on spring ballot

  • Chippewa-Falls-Unified-School-District-logo

Numerous school districts across the Chippewa Valley have referendums on the April 3 ballot, led by the $65 million request by the Chippewa Falls school district.

About $22 million would go toward replacing Stillson Elementary School. The school board decided last month to buy 36 acres in the town of Lafayette, roughly a mile from the present Stillson Elementary School, for the new building. The district already owns 19 miles within the city limits along Highway I that was earmarked for a new school, but the board has opted to sell that property and use the proceeds toward buying the Lafayette parcel.

The proposed referendum also includes construction and equipping of a classroom addition, capital improvements and repairs, technology upgrades, remodeling and site improvements at the middle school, and construction and equipping of a science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics (STEAM) lab addition, capital improvements and repairs and technology upgrades at the high school.

Stillson is the oldest school in the district, with the oldest wing constructed in the 1930s. It has an aging septic system and plumbing problems; there have been reports of the kitchen losing water pressure when toilets are flushed. 

The building went through renovations in 1957, 1963, 1985, 1990 and 1994, and is considered at the end of its useful life.

However, the building, parking lot and playground is on just a 6-acre site, which is considered too small of a footprint for a modern elementary school. 

Chippewa Falls schools Superintendent Heidi Taylor-Eliopoulos said it should be on at least 14 acres.

Approving a $65 million referendum would add $125 annually to the tax bill for a $100,000 home. Money would be borrowed and repaid over 20 years.

In November 2016, voters in the Chippewa Falls area rejected two separate referendums.

One was for $61.2 million, with most of the money earmarked for replacing Stillson Elementary School and renovating Halmstad and Jim Falls elementary schools. It also included buying land for a future high school. That question failed with about 46 percent support.

The other referendum question sought $98 million, with most of that money for a proposed new high school. That question only received 38 percent approval. 

A recent survey showed that of the general public — non-parents and non-staff — only 23 percent support replacing the high school. The new referendum makes no mention of purchasing land or replacing the high school.

Fall Creek

The Fall Creek school district also has a referendum on April 3. The district is seeking $12.4 million, which would go toward the cost of building infrastructure, safety and security improvements, including an addition of a secure entrance, classroom and music room modernization, renovating and expanding the commons area, constructing a larger weight and fitness center, and acquiring relating furnishings and fixtures.

A homeowner with a house valued at $100,000 would pay an additional $15 annually, according to the district.

Several other school districts in western Wisconsin also have referendums.

The Alma school district has two separate referendum questions. The board is asking voters to authorize exceeding the revenue limit by $295,000 a year for each of the next three school years, through 2020-21, with the money used to pay for maintenance and operation costs. 

The second question asks for an additional $25,000 in 2018-19 for capital expenditures related to buildings and sites.

The Mondovi school district is asking voters to approve exceeding the revenue cap by $450,000 for three years. The money would be used for maintaining programs and staffing, continuing to implement new technology into classrooms and maintaining facilities and grounds.

The Prairie Farm school district is also seeking a referendum to obtain $650,000 per year for the next five years. 

According to the school district, “Operating referendum funds are necessary in order for the district to maintain the high quality programs and activities that we have and to enable us to fund necessary upkeep and equipment replacements.”

Other districts in western Wisconsin having referendums include Clayton, Shell Lake, Arcadia, Gilman, Sparta, Ellsworth and River Falls.

Contact: chris.vetter@ecpc.com


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