School board finalizes community survey

Discussion of high school priorities looks at lumping them together vs. considering them separately
Lee Pulaski
City Editor

Final tweaks are being done this week on a survey that the Shawano School Board signed off on Sept. 11 by an 8-1 vote, which is expected to gauge whether voters are likely to support a capital referendum in April 2024 that would build a new middle school and renovate the other three schools.

In early October, the eight-page survey will be sent to all households in the Shawano School District. It will be the third survey from the district in the last five years, but this one will list specific capital project areas to help district officials to determine how much of a referendum that voters would support, with specific amounts ranging from $70 million to $110 million listed on the survey, along with options that voters would prefer a lower amount or that voters would not support a referendum no matter what amount the district asks for.

The survey will ask specific school questions, with the big one being whether the voters would support building a new middle school next to the existing Olga Brener Intermediate School to the tune of $53.6 million. Along with the question will be an explanation of why such a measure is being considered, including figures on how much it would cost the district to maintain the existing Shawano Community Middle School building, which is almost 70 years old.

There is a question about priorities at Shawano Community High School, which are estimated to cost up to $30 million once all is said and done. This includes a new weight room and other athletic priorities, as well as changes to the district’s performing arts facilities, career and technical education wing and more. The question does not include the pool facility and other athletic facilities outside the main building.

There will be separate questions for those issues, with one specifically for the pool. There is talk of closing down the pool, which is becoming more expensive to maintain. The question asks if voters would support spending $5 million to bring the pool up to modern specs, or if they would rather spend $2.3 million to close the pool, which would then possibly become the new weight room.

As for outdoor athletic facilities, the survey would ask if there’s support to spend about $9.1 million for a football stadium and upgrading other fields and courts.

The survey will also ask if residents support spending $5.2 million to create a daycare facility at Hillcrest Primary School to help families who are having difficulty finding available local options. Another question will ask about spending $4.4 million to update Olga Brener, which is the second oldest district facility next to SCMS.

The survey will also provide options for respondents to provide specific comments on projects, which is expected to help board members make decisions when it comes to determining in January whether to proceed to the April ballot. There are several places on the paper survey to provide responses.

Board member Frank Kugel, who cast the lone vote against the survey, recommended that there be more spaces for comments, specifically on the high school projects. He wanted the specific projects to each have their own question and space for comments so that survey takers who might support some of the SCHS projects but are against others would not have to make an all-or-nothing decision.

“I’ve been involved in multiple referendums in the Green Bay area, so as I look at, under the community high school, the six talking points, I would be really happy if each talking point could be rated and not have them all together in one rating,” Kugel said. “In my experience, because of some of the things in that one question, they will say no.”

Bill Foster with School Solutions, which put the survey together, noted that Kugel’s suggestion would make for a longer survey, but it would help to provide specific data on what voters would support in terms of high school improvements.

That was not a view shared by others on the board. Board member Bobbi Lemerond saw the move as something that would create factions and divide instead of bringing the community together.

“This way, we’re not pitting people against each other for a certain department,” Lemerond said. “I would like to see all of these areas get expanded and not just give everything to one area. I think this makes it more fair to give everyone something and not just update the athletic area or just update the performing arts or just update the tech ed.”

Superintendent Kurt Krizan pointed out that the district survey from early 2022 had data on whether voters would support performing arts over athletics or vice-versa. Kugel did not believe the data was still valid, considering how the economy has changed in the last 18 months.

“We have different people, different ideas and a different economy,” Kugel said. “Let’s get an updated idea of what the people want.”