As Nov. 4 looms, district referendum sessions continue

Oregon School District officials have been busy in recent weeks and months getting the word out on the $55 million referenda heading to the ballot in less than two weeks.

While attendance has been sparse, it seems people are finding the answers they’re looking for. And some people say that bodes well for referenda supporters.

Board member Barb Feeney said she has attended around eight events to help inform people about the referenda, handing out flyers at school events, special meetings with school staff and group presentations. She said the events that have been most successful were ones “already occurring” for another reason, noting that there was low turnout for the open house a few weeks ago at Brooklyn Elementary (one person in two hours) and various school tours.


‘A lot of bang for the buck’

Photos submitted. Oregon Middle School students are tightly packed due to overcrowding as they move through hallways and stairways between classes.

Decision day on Nov. 4 for a pair of school district referendums, school board members have been busy talking with community members and making their final pitch for the district’s $54.6 million upgrade plan. 

Members who spoke with the Observer – all of whom voted in favor of putting it on the ballot – said the measures will enhance the community. They say it will bring needed improvements to the schools while making the district – and in turn, Oregon – a more desirable destination for young families. 

Oregon School Board president Dan Krause said the community has generally been “very supportive” of the the district’s “strong” schools in the past, but he didn’t pull back much from Village President Steve Staton’s strong statement about what could happen if the referendums fail: 


Board prepares final adjustments

While most of the Oregon School District’s proposed $22.5 million tax levy for 2014-15 has been decided, the school board made a few final tweaks Monday night.

District business manager Andy Weiland said resident enrollment numbers recently came in “a little bit better” than expected, with about 30 more students than had been figured on when determining a preliminary budget.

“That definitely helped our financial situation this year,” he said. 

With a bit more extra money on hand, the board’s financial assets committee met last week to review budget and review recommendations from the administrative team. They made several recommendations that were unanimously approved by the board Monday, including:


Brooklyn fourth-graders organize fundraiser

During summertime, many schoolchildren like to take time off, relaxing or playing outside. Or, these days, inside - on electronic gadgets.

But Brooklyn Elementary students Ashley Wolfe, Danielle Palas and Maggie Templeton were busy thinking up ways to help their fellow community members in need. And they plan they dreamed up over the summer turned into quite a success.

The fourth-graders lead a food drive at the school last week that brought in more than 1,500 items for Oregon/Brooklyn Food pantry. Brooklyn Elementary School principal Kerri Modjeski said it all started during the summer, when one of the girls emailed her about having a food drive to support the pantry. Modjeski said they could do just that when school started, but when they met, she was amazed to get a whole business plan and marketing strategy, with posters and more.


Learning, security, efficiency

Renderings courtesy of Bray Architects. This design shows potential future upgrades for the Brooklyn elementary school.

Though the two Oregon School District referenda on the Nov. 4 ballot total nearly $55 million in various project costs, they are intended to be far more than just a “wish list.”

District superintendent Brian Busler said the need for the projects included in the referenda has been established over the past seven years. The projects are based on significant public input, and focus on the priorities of the Oregon Facility Master Plan. 

The school board had to pick and choose from that list, and it left out around $15 million worth of projects that didn’t make the cut.


State: OSD ‘exceeding expectations’

The Oregon School District exceeded expectations last year, according to the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction’s (DPI) annual “report cards” of public school districts.

According to the report, the district scored a 74.8, placing it toward the bottom tier of the “exceeds expectations” category, which ranges from 73-82.9.  The grade is the fourth-highest among 16 Dane County public school districts.

The scores are based on student achievement, student growth, closing gaps and on-track and postsecondary readiness. Statewide, 159 of the 424 districts earned the “Exceeds Expectations” level, with only nine reaching the highest mark, “Significantly Exceeds Expectations.” Milwaukee Public Schools was the only district that “Fails to Meet Expectations,” according to the DPI.


OSD ‘referendum tour’ underway

With memories of two failed referenda in 2012 – and lessons learned – clearly in mind, Oregon School District (OSD) officials are reaching out to the public to make sure their message is heard loud and clear this time around.

After district residents rejected a $33 million referendum by a 58-42 margin two years ago, OSD officials spent nearly $10,000 on a survey that fall to find out what residents were looking for. Many people wanted the district to continue to press for a referendum, but they also wanted the district to be clearer about what they were asking for and why.

This time around, with two new referenda totaling nearly $55 million, district officials are holding a series of open houses and tours, designed to provide information to residents on the ballot measures. One centers on athletic, academic and safety upgrades and the other is for associated maintenance and upkeep.


Tax levy could decrease

The Oregon School Board approved a preliminary 1.5 percent decrease in the tax levy for the 2014-15 school year at its annual meeting Monday night.

The 2014-15 budget will depend on the result of two Nov. 4 referendums - one which asks voters to approve $54.6 million in building renovations and improvements, and another that asks for authorization for the district to exceed its state-mandated revenue limits on a recurring basis by $355,864 to pay for the operational expenses of those improvements.

According to district officials, approval of both referendums would mean an extra $55 per $100,000 in assessed property value in taxes next year for district residents.  


OHS juniors found community outreach club

A helping hand is a welcome sight to someone in need, but sometimes the hardest part is knowing how to reach out.

Chloe Stoddard and Anika Sande enjoy helping others, especially around their hometown. For some time, the Oregon High School juniors wanted to start a community service club at the school, but didn’t know how.

In fact, the friends didn’t even know the other was interested in such a project.

But with new high school graduation requirements including a community service component, Stoddard saw an opportunity to do “more than just a graduation fulfillment,” but to work with her peers to target issues of need around Oregon, and create some “amazing experiences” in the meantime.

When she found out that Sande had the same idea in mind, they quickly got to work, talking with OHS officials to start the club to do various service projects in the area.


Referendum tops annual meeting

There’s no better time for long-term planning than the school district’s annual meeting. But with less than seven weeks before residents vote on two critical referendums, the Oregon School Board’s focus at Monday’s annual meeting will likely be on the short term.

After some last-minute debate on how many referendums to hold this fall, the board voted 6-1 last month to hold two, leaving a third on teacher compensation for a possible vote in April. The first question on the Nov. 4 ballot asks voters to approve $54.6 million in building renovations and improvements for a variety of schools and facilities, while the second authorizes the district to exceed its revenue limit on a recurring basis by $355,864 to pay for the operational expenses of those capital improvements.