Results of a recent Ladysmith School District survey show a slight majority supporting a proposal for an operational referendum of $600,000 to maintain current programs and services for each of the next five years. Results were less supportive of a separate proposal for a $21 million capital project referendum to fund a recommended building plan.

A breakdown of the survey results was presented during the Ladysmith School Board Wednesday, Nov. 17, meeting.

Results showed a majority of all key subgroups support a proposed $600,000 operational referendum.

The outcome of a proposed $21 million capital project referendum for the recommended plan would be very close if the vote were held today, but respondents leaned toward support. However, those responding expressed concerns regarding the project’s cost. They also want more information before deciding.

The fate of the referendum proposals rests in the hands of district residents who neither work for the district nor have children in district schools. This voting block makes up 75 percent of district residents based on survey results.

The school board hired the independent research firm, School Perceptions LLC, of Slinger, for $8,800 to conduct the survey.

School Perceptions Project Manager Rob DeMeuse told the board the referendum vote would be close if the election were today.

“We learned that a majority of all key subgroups supported the proposed operational referendum with the $600,000 per year for 5 years,” DeMeuse said. “If held today the outcome of the capital referendum for the recommended plan as described would be very, very close but respondents do lean toward support.”

DeMeuse was hopeful about the referendum’s outcome. He added it is common for school operational referendums to have more backing than capital project referendums, noting key subgroups of parents and non-parents/non-staff who responded they would vote  “definitely yes” or “probably yes” totaled about 53 percent.

“If this were held today on Nov. 17, I would probably predict while it would be close it would probably pass,” DeMeuse said.

The questions

The board will likely decide next month if it will put the two proposed referendum questions before voters in the spring election next April.

One is a capital project referendum question that allows a district to issue debt to pay for major building projects, such as renovations or building a school. Much like a home mortgage, a capital referendum is typically financed over an extended period of time, often up to 20 years. District officials will likely ask for a $21 million capital project referendum to fund a construction and renovation plan.

The other is an operational referendum question that is used to support day-to-day school operations such as educational programming, student services, and building maintenance. Funds secured through an operational referendum are used within the year they are received. District officials will likely ask for a $600,000 operational referendum to maintain current programs and services for each of the next five years.

“There is majority support for that piece,” School Perceptions Project Manager Rob DeMeuse told the board.

Who responded?

District residents were mailed a paper survey in October. The surveys could be completed through the mail or on-line. There were 477 total responses received, including 216 paper surveys for a 20 percent participation rate.

Most who responded were older with 2 percent ages 18-25, 10 percent ages 26-34, 35 percent ages 35-54, 18 percent ages 55-64 and 35 percent ages 65 and older. 

Ninety percent listed their primary residence in the school district, and 10 percent were not. 

Seventeen percent who responded were school district employees, and 83 percent were not.

Thirty percent said they have children in the district, and 62 percent did not. This breaks down to 49 percent at Ladysmith Elementary School, 46 percent at Ladysmith High School, 30 percent at Ladysmith Middle School, 4 percent other, 4 percent at a public school outside the district, 4 percent at Our Lady of Sorrows and 1 percent homeschool.

Most non-parents and non school staff said they like to receive school and district information from the Ladysmith News at 67 percent, district mailings at 47 percent, school newsletters at 22 percent, school website at 20 percent, social media at 12 percent, email at 12 percent and board meetings at 7 percent. Two percent or less said they like to receive information by phone, Lumberjack TV, other and parent/teacher organizations.

The majority of surveys were returned by residents of the city of Ladysmith at 59 percent. Other responses came from the surrounding towns of Flambeau at 18 percent and Grant at 11 percent. Eight percent of those who responded do not live in the district. The remaining responses came from Hubbard at 2 percent, Grow and Thornapple both at 1 percent and Willard at 0.2 percent.

The school district’s mill rate, which is used to calculate property taxes, has dropped 20 percent compared to the 2016 level, saving taxpayers $257 on each $100,000 of equalized property value. This rate based on every $1,000 of equalized property value, was $11.56 in 2020 compared with $11.80 in 2019, $13.81 in 2018, $14.01 in 2017 and $14.13 in 2016.

The school board also has prepaid some debt early and soon will pay off a large loan that helped update schools in 2001. This effort will reduce the tax impact of any new spending.  

Operational referendum

When measuring support for the $600,000 operational referendum to maintain current programs and services for each of the next five years,  the number of “all residents” who would definitely or probably support it was 60 percent compared with 22 percent that would probably or definitely not. Another 11 percent were undecided.

When measuring support for the $600,000 operational referendum to maintain current programs and services for each of the next five years,  the number of “staff residents” who would definitely or probably support it was 81 percent compared with 5 percent that would probably or definitely not. Another 14 percent were undecided.

When measuring support for the $600,000 operational referendum to maintain current programs and services for each of the next five years,  the number of “parent residents/non-staff” who would definitely or probably support it was 63 percent compared with 10 percent that would probably or definitely not. Another 27 percent were undecided.

When measuring support for the $600,000 operational referendum to maintain current programs and services for each of the next five years,  the number of “non-parent residents/non-staff” who would definitely or probably support it was 55 percent compared with 31 percent that would probably or definitely not. Another 14 percent were undecided.

“There is majority support for that piece,” DeMeuse told the board.

Facility background information

A task force made up of local business owners, community members, parents, school staff and students is recommending a plan that would:

n Improve safety and security;

nUpdate building systems and infrastructure;

nRemodel classrooms at both the middle and high school levels to expand sizes, improve acoustics, and add flexible learning areas;

nImprove public restrooms and locker rooms;

nExpand gym space to better accommodate school programming and after-school activities, including community use. The district is applying for a FEMA grant that would make the gym into a storm shelter and would offset up to 50 percent of this project; and 

nImprove athletic field safety with better drainage, new bleachers, new press box, and updates to the softball field.

District officials have said the full project can be funded without increasing taxes over the current level. Facility needs are not going away, and costs will likely increase as time goes on. Interest rates remain near historic lows.

Capital project referendum

When measuring support for the $21 million capital project referendum to fund the recommended building plan, the number of “all residents” who would definitely or probably support it was 57 percent compared with 26 percent that would probably or definitely not. Another 17 percent were undecided.

When measuring support for the $21 million capital project referendum to fund the recommended building plan, the number of “staff residents” who would definitely or probably support it was 74 percent compared with 18 percent that would probably or definitely not. Another 8 percent were undecided.

When measuring support for the $21 million capital project referendum to fund the recommended building plan, the number of “parent residents/non-staff” who would definitely or probably support it was 70 percent compared with 13 percent that would probably or definitely not. Another 17 percent were undecided.

When measuring support for the $21 million capital project referendum to fund the recommended building plan, the number of “non-parent residents/non-staff residents” who would definitely or probably support it was 47 percent compared with 34 percent that would probably or definitely not. Another 19 percent were undecided.

Voting blocks

The survey makes the assumption 75 percent were completed by individuals who are neither parents nor staff. Another 25 percent came from parents. Less than 1 percent came from staff.  The combined responses from individuals who are neither parents nor staff or parents break down to 52.8 percent voting “definitely yes” or “probably yes” on the recommended building plan.

Those who chose “definitely no” or “probably no” were asked to indicate why. Their answers were too expensive or too large of a tax impact at 41 percent, not trusting the planning process at 39 percent, not supporting the gym project at 36 percent, not supporting improved safety and security at 34 percent, not having enough information at 28 percent and not supporting the auditorium at 26 percent. There were 12 percent who did not support updated and expanded classrooms, 9 percent who did not support updated building systems and 8 percent other reasons.

The top five areas identified district officials should focus planning efforts were better prepare students for life after high school at 67 percent, recruit and retain high-quality staff at 35 percent, expand opportunities to earn college credits at 33 percent, improve the career and technical education “shop” at 27 percent and increase reading and literacy achievement and expand social/emotional/mental health services, both at 26 percent.

Most said it is likely they would  recommend the district to a friend or family member.

The full survey results from School Perceptions are posted on the school district website at www.ladysmith.k12.wi.us. They are also attached to this story posted online at www.ladysmithnews.com.

(0) comments

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
PLEASE TURN OFF YOUR CAPS LOCK.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.