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October 15, 2013 | 04:06 PM
WILLIAMS BAY — Passing a referendum to build a new elementary school in Williams Bay won’t be impossible, but it won’t be easy either.

While a majority of parents and staff are enthusiastic about a new building, a majority of nonparents are not excited about the prospect.

And nonparents make up a majority of the voting residents in the district.

“It would be a long putt,” said Bill Foster of Eppstein Uhen Architects, Milwaukee.

Foster presented the results of the survey Monday at the regular Williams Bay School Board meeting. Full survey results are posted on the school district’s website, williamsbayschools.org. About 30 residents attended, and the meeting was moved from the school board meeting room to the library.

The survey was conducted this past September. Eppstein Uhen contacted about 2,000 voting-age residents of the school district.

Respondents had a choice between taking the survey online or completing a paper survey. A total of 530 surveys were submitted, Foster said.

Foster said that was an excellent response. The margin of error in the survey is plus or minus 4.3 percent.

The survey showed about 79 percent of the parents favored a new elementary school, along with 54 percent of the staff, Foster said. However, only 30 percent of the nonparents said yes to a new elementary school, while 57 percent said no. Another 13 percent were undecided.

Foster said the school board will have to pay attention to that group. In most districts, nonparents comprise up to 70 percent of the total population, he said.

Parents normally make up about 25 percent, he said.

Overall, however, when asked if they would support a referendum to raise $18 million for a “dedicated space for all elementary students,” 54 percent said yes.

However, among those who were not in favor, the major concern is property taxes.

“There’s a lot of sensitivity to tax impact with the nonparents,” said Foster.

Asked if they would support tax increases of $134, $81 or $58 per $100,000 of equalized assessed valuation, about half of all respondents indicated they would tolerate a tax increase of $81, Foster said. Approval doesn’t gain a clear majority until the figure drops to $58. The size of the tax increase would dictate the design and amenities of the new elementary school.

On the other side, 19 percent said they would vote against any tax increase referendum. Among nonparents, 34 percent are against any tax increase, Foster said. Generally, in a capital projects referendum, the votes against a tax increase are pretty solid and hard to win over, Foster said.

The bond issue for the junior/senior high school building will be paid off in 2015, meaning that about $84 per $100,000 in taxes will come off individual tax bills. The suggested increases of $58, $81 and $134 per $100,000 of equalized assessed valuation assumes the $84 has already come off the tax bills, Foster said.

Comments from the survey indicated that residents were all over the board on what to do with the old elementary school at 139 Congress St. should the district build a new school, Foster said. The core of the old building was built in 1916 and then added to over time. The design of the structure and its additions are no longer adequate for the school.

Some residents said they want it sold, others want it converted to other uses. Written suggestions vary from leaving it as is to razing the building partially or completely. Eppstein Uhen was officially hired by the school board on Jan. 21 for a fee not to exceed $15,000. The company’s assignment is to guide the district’s progress from planning the new building to going to referendum.

The board has not formally decided whether it will go to referendum to build a new elementary school building.

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