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Oak Creek-Franklin board puts school space-related referendum questions on November ballot

Aug. 12, 2014

Oak Creek — The Oak Creek-Franklin Joint School Board has approved two referendum questions, seeking voter support to reduce class sizes at the elementary school level and create added space for high schoolers.

The referendum questions, approved on Monday, Aug. 11 for placement on the November general election ballots, will propose the building of a new elementary school, a ninth-grade center and a community auditorium.

A ninth-grade center would ideally house up to 700 incoming freshmen to create breathing room for sophomores, juniors and seniors at the high school.

The proposed auditorium would be attached to the ninth-grade center and would be available for student and community use.

District officials say data shows five out of six elementary grade levels in the district are above capacity, and that Oak Creek High School is also operating above capacity. According to data on the district website, enrollment in district has jumped from 4,823 to 6,444 between 2000 and 2014.

The elementary school and ninth-grade center would be addressed on one referendum question. The auditorium is slated to be its own question since it is more of a "want" than a "need," the board has said.

The total cost for all three projects, if backed by voters, would be $66,450,000. That projection is about $2 million less than what was originally quoted by contractors. The district's current debt is $39,075,000, according to data provided by Superintendent Sara Burmeister.

Some residents expressed concern about the financial burden that the projects would place on the district and taxpayers — a concern shared by Mark Verhalen, school board treasurer, who voted against the referendum.

"I'm not against improvements of our facilities, but I do have reservations about the burden on the taxpayers," Verhalen said. "I do think there are other options out there."

Other residents who had concerns about the district's growing debt still urged the board to opt to place the questions on the general election ballot so the decision ultimately be left to the taxpayers.

The Future Facilities Planning Committee has met since January to brainstorm solutions to the district's overcrowding. The growing population of within classrooms has been on the district's radar since 2010, when a committee began to to assess spatial needs.

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