Sun Prairie Schools seek $164 million referendum for second high school

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SUN PRAIRIE (WKOW) — As spring elections approach, the Sun Prairie School District asks voters to consider the largest referendum in the state to build a second high school.

For those living in the school district, the ballot will include two questions. The first is for $164 million to build a second high school, improve the Cardinal Heights Middle School, remove the aging Prairie Phoenix Academy building and add additional sports facilities. The second would increase the amount of revenue the district can collect by $5 million to pay to operate the new school as well as improve teacher pay and to help pay for construction along the way.

As one of the fastest growing cities in the state, school board president Dr. Steve Schroeder said the current high school alone can’t keep up with the growth.

“As a matter of fact, it will be beyond capacity in four years,” he said.

That’s why he said the district needs a second high school sooner or later but, at $164 million Schroeder said he understands why some voters may have a little sticker shock.

“That $164 million is a lot of money to ask, but I think it’s important to look at what the actual tax impact is,” he said.

If both questions pass on Tuesday, taxpayers can expect a property tax increase of about $128 per $100,000 on the cost of a home. For an average Sun Prairie home valuing $250,000 that would be an additional $320 a year.

Some voters aren’t convinced it’s worth the price tag. Tara Freund lives in the district and has one school-age son. She said after the two new elementary schools opened in 2018, class sizes were smaller than anticipated.

“I do think that Sun Prairie ultimately will need a new high school some day but am not convinced that day is today,” She said.

Freund said she recently took her son out of a Sun Prairie elementary school because she was concerned about the way the district managed the school. She said she wouldn’t support an expansion under the current management. Instead she would like to see the district take creative steps to tackle overcrowding.

“They could offer some online learning opportunities which many families and students may take advantage of,” Freund said. “Additionally, they could have staggered schedules and staggered starts as well as different educational tracks.”

Former school board member Roger Fetterly has his own idea.

“Schools should be operated in an effective and efficient way and it should not overburden the taxpayers,” he said.

Fetterly believes the best way to tackle overcrowding is to redraw the district boundaries. The Sun Prairie School District includes students from the northeast side of Madison, the city and town of Sun Prairie and a few townships in southern Columbia County. Fetterly believes the district should negotiate with the neighboring Madison Metropolitan School District to reduce the number of students coming in.

“They can do it a lot easier than we can,” he said. “A lot cheaper than we can.”

Earlier this month, the district took to Facebook to denounce an op-ed from Fetterly. The op-ed claimed the referendum’s second question violated Wisconsin Election Law. Fetterly filed a complaint with the election commission it was dismissed.

Schroeder said the district weighed dozens of options over the past year and now he believes a new high school isn’t a matter of if but when for Sun Prairie.

“We don’t have a lot of time and every year that we put this project off the more expensive it’s going to become,” He said.

If the referendum passes, the district said it will build a school that’s comparable to the current Sun Prairie High School Building. If the referendum doesn’t pass, the Sun Prairie School District won’t be able to add another referendum to the ballot until 2020.

Michelle Alfini

Michelle Alfini

Reporter, WKOW

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