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Albany school district considers referendum
ALBANY - Two years after its last referendum was approved on the April 2016 ballot by 61 percent of the vote, the Albany school district is seeking feedback from community members on how to pursue another.

Immediate needs include the installation of a safe entryway and replacement of roof sections over two decades old, Albany School Board President Steve Elliott said. Another project could address the original structure, built in 1922.

"Just because of its age, we have to decide whether we want to invest a great deal to fix it ... or the alternative to doing an extensive remodel, which is being considered right now, is complete demolition of the building," Elliott said. "We could probably wait five to seven years to deal with it. At that point, we're going to be tearing it down because of safety and liability issues."

The building was reopened in the last few years, Elliott said, after it was closed in 1998 once the 1996 addition of a library and classroom was complete. The second floor houses a community center and a ground level classroom currently hosts a health class.

Elliott said the district has received an estimate of $300,000 to $500,000 to demolish the building.

The first of two planned focus group meetings took place at the school April 16. Elliott estimated 50 people were in attendance.

While the board said there are no details regarding cost or the scope of projects, Albany resident and parent Paul Garvoille, who attended, said he would rather see the building close than attempt another referendum to conduct what he sees as unnecessary renovations when academic deficiencies should be the focus.

"With the school operating as it is, I'd just as soon see it shut down," Garvoille said. "I think they need to be spending money on better administrators and trying to retain better teachers."

Garvoille added he does not feel a referendum should be utilized for curriculum improvements either. He pointed to the exodus of superintendents, two in the last two years, the loss of what he said was 71 district employees and the drop in enrollment within the last four years. According to information dispersed at the focus group meeting, Albany school district had an enrollment of 380 in the 2013-14 school year. This year, the district has 343 students.

"There's a lot of reasons those students are leaving," Garvoille said.

Elliott echoed concerns with district academia and staff turnover.

"At a time when Kwik Trip pays $14 an hour, it's hard to price competitive with our aides," Elliott said, adding that as a parent of three, he is motivated to enhance curriculum. "Our academic performance is a problem. Honestly, it's a push for me and other members of the board and of the district. Our test scores aren't good. The test scores and where the graduating students end up aren't matching up."

He added that it was "unfortunate" that the Garvoilles have had a negative experience with the district, noting Paul's wife SuAnn had been terminated from her job as a teacher with the school last year. Elliott said he had heard the couple's son, a senior, has done well in school.

Elliott said the district has plans to invest $60,000 in curriculum and staff training for the next three years to help students adapt to common core standards. In the 2016-17 Wisconsin Department of Instruction Report Card results, Albany fared the worst of area districts for the second year in a row, despite an improvement in its score. It earned a 58.7 and was placed in the "Meets Few Expectations" category by the state. The report cards score based on four main goals: English and mathematics performance, growth of the school system, the closure of gaps between student groups and student preparedness after secondary school, like graduation and attendance rates.

Another referendum item would be roof repair. Elliott said the referendum remains in a planning stage right now, so "nothing is set in stone," but that portions of the roof that have far exceeded a 30-year lifespan need replacement.

Elliott noted that a proposed cafeteria addition covering a double-door entryway installed as part of a referendum in 2009, which is one of the proposals Garvoille criticized, would likely not happen because the current cafeteria size is more than adequate.

Another portion of the referendum would likely be to improve security. Elliott said that while the district building doors are locked throughout the day and the use of a camera and audio system remain in use, once someone is allowed entrance to the building, they are given access to a stairway and walk by roughly 10 classrooms to get to the centrally-located office. He added that the bells and clocks system of over 20 years would also require replacement.

For now, Elliott said the board does not plan to rush the process of obtaining public feedback and finalizing plans before putting the measure to a vote, though the meeting handout indicated the measure could be added to the Nov. 6 ballot.

The second focus group will be May 15, which should begin to address referendum costs. Because the debt from a 2009 referendum would end, taxes in the district will decrease by $166 per every $100,000 of home value. Options for referendum totals could span from $1.3 million over five years, $2.6 million over a decade or $5.3 million over 20 years. With the 20-year borrowing, projects would have no tax increase.

Garvoille said he feels the district lied to the public when it presented its case for a three-year referendum to fund operating costs in 2016.

"They said if that referendum passed, no more referendums would be needed," Garvoille said. "They promised us."