Wauwatosa residents say they support School Board exploring facilities referendum
A community-wide survey seeking feedback on the Wauwatosa School District’s long-range master facilities planning found 73 percent (73%) of responding Wauwatosa residents support exploring a referendum to address the District’s aging schools.
When combined, parent and non-parent respondents said they would support a facilities referendum of at least $125 million to address identified needs.
The survey was mailed to all Wauwatosa residents in late April. More than 3,400 residents participated. The results were presented to the Wauwatosa School Board during its meeting on Monday, June 11.
“From a statistical perspective, it’s a very, very good response rate and typical for a district of this size,” said Bill Foster, president of School Perceptions, an independent company hired to administer the survey. “This data provides a solid foundation on which the FAC and School Board can make a decision as they formulate the next step of the planning process.”
Sixty-eight percent (68%) of survey respondents also said they would support a referendum focused on updating elementary schools in phase one projects.
“There is strong support for this District. There is a clear direction. Many times I go to school board meetings and the first slide (of the report) shows there is no support to go to referendum. Clearly, there is the support here to go to referendum. Clearly, there is some consensus an investment at the elementary level is needed. And this is really strong support financially,” Foster told the Wauwatosa School Board.
A community-based Facilities Advisory Committee (FAC) has worked on master facilities planning for more than a year and identified elementary schools as the most pressing needs facing the District. The Committee has based its work on a comprehensive facilities audit of all 14 school buildings conducted in the fall of 2016.
Key challenges include:
- Aging Buildings: On average, district schools are 73.5 years old. Portions of some schools are nearly 100 years old. A number of buildings have original operating systems (boilers, mechanical, plumbing, etc.) that have been extended two to three times beyond their life expectancy. Their age makes them inefficient and costly to repair.
- Accessibility Challenges & Limitations: Most schools in the district have significant accessibility challenges for students, staff, or family members with limited mobility. While they have been “grandfathered” into compliance due to when they were built, most of the schools are not compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) code requirements. Staff has moved classes from their original room so students can participate.
- Outdated Learning Space: Significant changes have been made to the way teachers teach and students learn compared to the timeframe when their learning environments were constructed and as such, much of the classroom space does not reflect the future-focused careers we are preparing students for.
- School Safety: Many of our schools need updates/modifications to better monitor and control visitor access.
In addition to supporting elementary schools as the main priority and focus for phase one of a comprehensive long-range Master Facilities Plan, taxpayers reported the following needs as their top priorities at the middle and high schools:
- Building maintenance
- Updating safety and security systems
- Improving ADA accessibility to buildings, classrooms, and restrooms
- Remodeling/updating technical education classrooms and labs
Foster said the survey margin of error is plus or minus 1.9 percent.
“If you were to increase the response by another 1,000 surveys, I expect data would move by likely less than one percent.”
The FAC was formed in February of 2017 and has worked on reviewing the facilities audit in depth, touring schools, identifying potential solutions, and analyzing preliminary options and costs for more than a year. Read the charge of the Committee here. In the fall of 2017, the community-based Facilities Advisory Committee identified preliminary long-range project costs to address all identified needs of the District’s 14 buildings to be $350 million. Improvements would meet criteria established by the Committee for all schools. Given the large scope of needs, the FAC recognized projects would likely need to be completed in phases based on priorities of the community.
Following the results of the community-wide survey, the Facilities Advisory Committee will work in June to develop an advisory recommendation for a phase one project. The FAC will present its recommendation to the Board on Monday, June 25th at 7 p.m.
The Board will consider the FAC advisory recommendation, results from the community survey, and findings from the comprehensive long-range master facilities planning process. If the Board were to pursue a potential November 2018 referendum to address aging schools, they are required to finalize phase one project scope by August 25, 2018. Following this decision, the District would work with the School Board to develop a comprehensive communications effort to inform Wauwatosa taxpayers. The information would be available beginning in September.
The District is committed to keeping the community informed. Questions may be directed to firstname.lastname@example.org. To learn more about the comprehensive facilities audit conducted in the fall of 2016 and the work of the Facilities Advisory Committee over the last year-and-a-half, visit http://www.wauwatosaschools.org/facilitiesplanning.