Thursday, April 02, 2009

Vote Yes Information

The following is an email I received regarding the upcoming school referendum. Please remember to vote yes, yes, yes on April 7th.

Friends & Neighbors, My name is Tom Czajkowski and I am a co-chair of the Vote YES! committee for the upcoming school referendum on Tuesday, April 7. The purpose of this note is to ask you to read then forward this email in its entirety to your friends, neighbors, and colleagues in the Oshkosh area. The detailed information below on all three of the referendum questions should be helpful to people as they prepare to cast their votes on April 7.

This is a crucially important moment for the Oshkosh Area School District. The school buildings in our community have been neglected for years (in some cases, decades). The three questions on the April 7 referendum directly and very specifically (measurably) begin to attack this problem. And the tax impact is very small and lasts only two years (read below for details).

If you’ve read the news in the past week, you know the district will likely be forced to lay off some teachers next year to balance its operating budget. This is not a new problem; with the state funding formula being what it is, every year the district has to make difficult cuts: lay off teachers and staff, defer maintenance, cut language programs, etc. A successful referendum on April 7 will raise the extra funds that will take some pressure off the normal operating budget in future years by devoting new dollars to a very modest amount of essential construction and maintenance. In other words, a YES vote on April 7 gives us a chance, as citizens and parents, to get the district’s annual budget in better shape for the next several years. The Board of Education cannot do it without us. The scale of the problem is too large for us to expect incremental improvements in the annual budgeting process (while necessary) to resolve this problem.

Thank you in advance for forwarding this message along. I hope you and your neighbors find it helpful and informative. We would very much appreciate it if you would send this email to at least 10 people and ask those ten to do the same. And please mark your calendars to vote on Tuesday, April 7. _________________________________________________________________________

VOTE on Tuesday, April 7
Question #1 YES Replace School
Question #2 YES Repair Schools
Question #3 YES for Safe Schools

Thanks for taking the time to read this message. Its purpose is to strongly encourage you to vote YES on Tuesday, April 7 in support of all three referendum questions benefiting our Oshkosh Area School District. This message will provide you with essential information for each of the questions; along with links for additional information should you want it.

Also included near the end is a link to a simple but useful chart which summarizes the very modest and temporary increase in property taxes for each of the three referendum questions. A special note: the success of all three questions on April 7 will amount to only $1.00 a week for the owner of a $100,000 house. And that will only last for two short years, after which we’ll drop back to current school tax levels (more on this later in this note…). My fellow citizens, this is something we can do. This is something we must do for the good of our district and for the school buildings into which we send our kids every day.

Please remember to vote YES on April 7! Please forward this email in its entirety to at least ten of your friends and neighbors. We need to get the message out and we need to get YES voters to the polls on Tuesday, April 7.

And, as always, the latest detailed information regarding the referendum is posted on the district’s website (click
here). We have also set up a Facebook site with even more useful information. You can get to it by clicking here (you do not need to be a Facebook member).

Question #1: A New North-Side Replacement School

Building a new school is a big decision. For years the district has prudently done its best to maintain the buildings it already operates, but it’s clear that some of the buildings are simply too old and in too bad a state of disrepair to justify any new maintenance dollars. Oaklawn Elementary is one of those buildings.

It needs to be replaced to eliminate several chronic safety concerns with the existing Oaklawn site, which is grossly undersized and has no dedicated bus lanes, almost nonexistent parent parking, and tiny outdoor play areas. The new replacement site is approximately 38 acres in size and is located just one mile west of the old Sunset location, which is no further west than the existing Traeger and Oakwood buildings. And it's only 4.1 miles from the existing Oaklawn site (a five-minute drive). The parcel’s generous size and location will fully address the current Oaklawn site issues and will allow for future expansion should additional needs arise in the district over time.

Transportation costs for the new school will be essentially the same as they are today. The same number of routes will be used (8) as are used today to get the kids to Oaklawn. Costs are very similar, too, and the district can eliminate the extra costs of shuttling (small buses) the approximately 90 kids who cannot attend their home school today (Oaklawn) due to a lack of services and/or space. Consequently, the new north-side school will consolidate the Oaklawn, Sunset, and displaced populations and does so without adversely affecting transportation costs.

Another interesting fact about the current Oaklawn situation: while the school has approximately 230 students, only 20 to 30 walk currently given a variety of factors, including the unsafe walking conditions created by the crossing of the very busy Jackson and Main streets. Some Oaklawn teachers actually counted the number of kids walking to school one day last week and it was only six (6). So, for a variety of reasons, the vast majority of children aren’t walking to the school today; they’re either being bused or driven by their parents.

The new replacement school building itself will eliminate the shared, inefficient, and unproductive use of Oaklawn’s existing gymnasium, which today serves as the school’s art, physical education, and lunch room. From a facilities perspective, that’s a very difficult situation for the school’s staff to manage and is unfair to the kids. The new north-side replacement building will have dedicated space for each of these important activities as well as purpose-built space for music and science, which today exist on a rusty, roving grocery cart at Oaklawn.

The new replacement school will have space to accommodate students from the former Sunset attendance area and do so in much closer proximity to where the families live. The original Sunset building was closed several years ago – and never replaced -- due to irreparable mold conditions.

Even if you’re not a member of the Oaklawn or Sunset attendance areas, supporting the replacement of this school is the right thing to do. Someday, perhaps many years from now, your local school will need major renovation or possibly replacement. At that point, you’ll need the community’s broad support. Right now, the Oaklawn community needs our support.

Finally, and importantly, both the Oaklawn and soon thereafter the Lincoln buildings will close as a result of the new construction. So, essentially, the district is building one new building to replace three: Oaklawn, Lincoln, and Sunset, which was never replaced.

Question #2: Basic But Essential Maintenance Needs

Some of our schools are literally falling apart! Did you know many of the buildings operated by the district today weren’t built by the district? And weren’t built to any set of standards? It’s true; many of the buildings were transferred from other towns and districts over the past several decades. And many are very old and in desperate need of repairs.

Question #2 will generate an extra $1,300,000 per year only for the next five years solely to address the most pressing maintenance issues which have been deferred over the past 10 to 15 years due to other pressures on the district’s annual budget. There is nothing fancy or frivolous on the list of targeted improvements for these additional funds, just the essentials. Examples include roof replacements/upgrades, boiler replacements/upgrades, window replacements, electrical and lighting improvements, etc. For a detailed, very specific list of how these additional funds will be used each year over the next five years, click here (then go to page 8 in linked the document).

Some people believe the district can accommodate these needs with more careful and frugal budgeting. But that is unrealistic. For many years now, Oshkosh has been and remains among the lowest spending districts in the state (see chart here). The reality is, the district needs new investment and it needs the permission of the voters (you!) to raise and invest the funds to address these maintenance problems.

Question #3: Safety and Security

In recent parent surveys conducted by the district, the safety/security of our school buildings rated highest on a list of parents’ largest concerns and priorities. Question #3 will generate an extra $500,000 per year only for the next five years specifically to improve security at all buildings throughout the district. Five schools – the ones with the most severe entrance/security issues – will have their existing offices relocated to the front of the building to provide a clear, secure entrance to the school. These schools are:

Read Elementary
Oshkosh West High School
Franklin Elementary
Webster Stanley Elementary
Perry Tipler Middle School

While only the five schools above will receive brick and mortar reconstruction projects, all remaining schools in the district will benefit from new or upgraded video surveillance and remote-entrance (“buzzer”) systems, exterior door replacements, and signage.

Summary: What Will It Cost?

The district is fully aware of the challenging economic times in which we live, and the size and scope of these referendum questions have been scaled down significantly in light of those challenges. There are plenty of other, additional maintenance and re-construction needs across the district, but the three questions on the April 7 referendum narrowly support only the most desperately needed investments.

As citizens, we’re the only people who can make it happen. We should all expect sound and frugal management from our elected school board members, but the large scale of the facilities challenges faced by the district cannot be addressed by squeezing even more out of an annual budget which is already under too much pressure year after year.

The good news? The success of all three questions on the April 7 referendum will result in only a $1.00 increase per week in property taxes for the owner of a $100,000 house (or $52 a year). That’s the cost of one cup of coffee a week! And most of that increased cost (69% of it) ends after five years when the temporary boost for questions #2 and #3 end. Click here to see a chart which outlines the costs for each individual question and the totals.

The really good news? Given the very fiscally conservative way the district has managed its finances over the past few decades, the $1/week increase in school taxes mentioned above will be offset in 2011 by a full $1.00 per week (again, on a $100,000 house) and reduced again by another $0.71 in 2014. The reductions can be attributed to the retirement of debt related to Traeger (1996 construction) and Jefferson Elementary (1998 reconstruction). So, the net effect of all three of the referendum questions passing on April 7 will be felt, essentially, only from 2009 through 2011. After which, tax levels will return to 2009 levels, assuming all other factors remain constant (which is all we can plan for at this point.)

Please remember to vote YES on April 7! Please forward this email in its entirety to at least ten of your friends and neighbors. We need to get the message out and we need to get YES voters to the polls.

Authorized and paid for by Vote YES for Oshkosh Schools. Kevin Harvot, Treasurer.


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