It’s looking like a Stoughton Area School District referendum won’t be on your ballot next spring, but rather, in November 2022.
In the meantime, the district will look into whether it should build a new facility that would house a grades 4K-1 early learning site to complement the current elementary school structure, as it considers what the future of education in the district and around the state will look like.
During a Tuesday, Sept. 7, Stoughton Area Board of Education learning session with district superintendent Tim Onsager, much of the board was in agreement that it wanted to wait until the fall 2022 election for a referendum, and they wanted to take the time between now and then to figure out what direction it wanted the district to go long-term so that the referendum reflected future needs.
A few of those items the board wanted to take into consideration within the next year was the district’s “Portrait of a Graduate” initiative this fall, where administrators evaluate what knowledge, values and attributes they want a district graduates in 2034 to have. It will also look at the possibility of full-day 4K on the horizon and equity concerns for those on the east side of the district if it opted to close Kegonsa Elementary School, which is the district’s oldest elementary building currently in use at nearly 60 years old.
No vote was held at the meeting, which featured a discussion on what board members wanted to see in a future referendum.
Onsager told board members at the Sept. 7 meeting he wasn’t in favor of closing Kegonsa completely because he worried of the perception it might have when the district is already struggling with its enrollment, but acknowledged that closing the school would save the district $1 million in annual operational costs.
“If you ask me, if this was my decision, I would probably go big,” Onsager told the board. “I would look to revamp or build new… if that’s the route we go, I’m a little leary about an April referendum, because there’s still a lot of unanswered questions.”
That “big” option shows up in a fifth scenario, where the district would keep Kegonsa Elementary School in use with renovations and reduce its grade levels, and build a new school dedicated to grades 4K-1 to prepare for a future where the district might have full-day 4K options within its building, and work with community partners such as daycare facilities to offer half-day 3K.
Onsager said he sees full-day 4K becoming a statewide trend within the next five years, and urged the board to consider making room for those students.
“Looking at the future – at some point, are we going to have all of our 4K kids in the schools?” he said. “I’d hate to go five or six years from now back to the community and say, ‘Yeah, we kind of thought this, but we under-estimated and we need to add on,’ because to me, that’s short-sighted.”
In June, the district outlined four referendum scenarios, with price tags ranging between $18.9 million and $62 million, that would add infrastructure at all schools, raze the former Yahara Elementary and address the district’s oldest school, Kegonsa Elementary.
At the core of the proposal is $16.5 million in high-priority maintenance such as roof and window replacements and HVAC systems needs that were identified in the past few years by district officials and EUA Learning Architecture, which conducts planning and development consultants for the district.
Referendum scenario No. 2 would convert Sandhill Elementary back into a middle school and River Bluff Middle school to an elementary campus. Scenario No. 3 would replace Kegonsa with a new school on the current site, while the fourth scenario would raze Kegonsa and expand Fox Prairie Elementary.
While all of the board members presented seemed receptive to a grades 4K-1 school plan, they all agreed the district should wait until November 2022 for the referendum so that it has time to finish the Portrait of a Graduate and has the ability to hold listening sessions and workshops for district families to provide feedback.
“To me, it’s more about the questions around the guiding principles that help to drive the end result,” board member Joe Freye said.
New, energy-efficient air conditioning units are up and running at River Bluff Middle School and Sandhill Elementary School.
Masked with smiles, students at Kegonsa Elementary School returned to the building for the first day of school on Wednesday, Sept. 1.