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Prescott not ready for referendum vote

Survey says: Now is not a good time for the Prescott School District to plan a referendum to borrow money for facility needs and upgrades.

The school board has a workshop planned Dec. 2 at 6:30 p.m. to start to unpack the information district residents provided in a survey overseen by School Perceptions.

The Prescott School Board got its first glimpse at what the survey – returned by 21 percent of district residents – revealed at its meeting last Wednesday night.

The main finding was that a majority of residents would not support a referendum at any level at this time.

The district had a facility study done last year that identified safety and maintenance projects, as ways to make district facilities in tune with educational needs.

A primary need was to make building entrances as secure as Prescott High School, where visitors can only enter the office during school hours. Another priority was make building drop-off areas safe.

The survey was designed to educate district residents on facility needs, as well as to gauge willingness to pay for the projects at referendum.

Surveys were sent out to all district households in early October. School staff and parents that don’t live in the district were also allowed to participate in the survey, but when it came down to analyzing data on if there was referendum support, Sue Peterson of School Perceptions zeroed in on data from district residents alone.

Peterson said that throughout the survey, a big portion of residents did not support projects proposed or spending.

“You’re already sitting at a majority of folks saying they aren’t going to support anything,” she said. “That group really remained consistent in the whole survey. Those folks continued to say they’re not interested in supporting a referendum

See SURVEY, Page 9 at this time.”

The survey presented different levels at which referendum borrowing would be viewed favorably. A group that includes parents only who live in the resident would favor a referendum only below the $16 million mark. That mark was the lowest of the tax tolerance levels listed, which ranged from there to $22 million in $2 million increments.

“At this point, this data tells us your community might not be ready for a bond referendum at this time,” said Peterson.

Board members mainly said the information didn’t shock them, but that they are still responsible for making sure facilities are kept up in a responsible fashion.

“I understand the data,” Steve Sizemore said. “This is the first time we’re seeing it. I think we need a little time to digest. I’m quite honestly not shocked with the results. We’ll leave it right there.”

“I too understand the data. I’m not totally surprised with where we’re at. I’m disheartened. I was hopeful,” said Tanya Holub. “Things like the pandemic, loss of income, these kinds of things point to this not being the right time.”

“At least we know where the public and our residents and staff stand since we unfortunately can’t have large gatherings and forums,” said Vicki Rudolph.

“It gives us what we need to think about our next steps,” said Pat Block.

Board President Mike Matzek commented, “We’ll be able to digest this a little bit more. We’ll see where the focus goes for the workshop. We might want to rethink some things. Given this is our first look at the information, we need to have it sit and digest a little bit and then hit it hard. Our needs aren’t going to go away. We’re going to need to do a better job of informing the public and getting input and getting buy-in from them.

Under the survey, two “pathways” were presented, In the first pathway, Malone Elementary School would be “reconfigured” to serve kindergarten through third grade. In addition to building safety and better parking and traffic patterns, a dedicated cafeteria space would be built, along with space for Science, Technology, Engineering and Math programming. Heating, ventilation, plumbing and electrical systems would be upgraded at all buildings but the new high school._ Under that plan, Malone Intermediate would serve grades six through eight. There would be classroom upgrades and the plan would include constructing a detached maintenance building because space in the school would be reconfigured for classrooms and choir. Asbestos would be removed, as would non-used chemistry and Family and Consumer Economics labs from when the building was the high school._ Prescott Middle School would then be updated for grades four and five._ Under pathway two, students would be consolidated into three buildings, while the current middle school would be utilized for district offices and district and community programming._ Under that plan, Malone Elementary would serve grades K-3. The Intermediate would be reconfigured for grades 4-8 with current district offices being remodeled into classrooms.

The survey gave background on the facility study.

“Many of the education spaces in our older schools need to be updated to meet the current educational needs of our students. Today’s classrooms require flexible space to provide large group instruction, small group collaboration, increased access to technology, and space for hands-on, project-based learning opportunities to better support the Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) curriculum. In addition, the elementary school lacks a dedicated cafeteria, requiring daily setup and take-down of tables and creating scheduling challenges for physical education classes,” the text of the survey states. ‘The elementary and intermediate schools have space that can be renovated for classrooms. The middle school is currently at capacity and remodeling or expanding it is limited by its structure and location. This is an opportunity to reconfigure the grade levels in the schools to better utilize available space as well as improve efficiency of staff and resources.”_ The survey asked, “Given this information, would you support the District exploring a facilities referendum at this time?”_ The total cost for Pathway 1 was put at $19.4 - $20.1 million._ The cost for Pathway 2 was projected at $17.9-$18.6 million._ The survey then asked which Pathway the resident would support, or it they support either or neither._ Costs of estimated property tax increases were then laid out on the survey. A property valued at $200,000 would see an estimated tax increase of $146 per year at the $18 million project level. Respondents are asked what sized referendum they would support: $22 million, $20 million, $18 million, $16 million, a “smaller” referendum or none at all.

Data Unveiling

The majority of those returning surveys (59) percent were between 35 and 54 years of age. Half of the respondents lived in the City of Prescott, a quarter in in Oak Grove and the remainder were in Clifton or in other communities. While staff and open enrollees were allowed to participate in the survey, people who weren’t district residents had their responses removed from the final considerations.

The end results:

“As we look at this initial response, you can see here’s a stronger leaning on folks saying they’re not interested in the district exploring a facility referendum at this time,” she said.

As far as which pathway would be supported, 36 percent of all residents said neither and 57 percent of “non-parent” residents said neither.

Of the non-parent resident group, Peterson said, “They seem to be a hard no.”