June 21, 2023 at 6:05 p.m.

SDR to survey voters on tech ed update

Renovations, additions to RHS and JWMS estimated to cost $26M

By Heather [email protected]

This fall, all households in the School District of Rhinelander will receive a survey aimed at gauging community support for a potential capital project focused on improving the district's technical education facilities.

On Monday evening, the district's board of education voted to contract with a research firm called School Perceptions to facilitate the survey process at a cost of $9,300.

The vote came after a representative from School Perceptions, as well as district staff members, participated in a presentation outlining potential future plans for the technical education facilities at both James Williams Middle School and Rhinelander High School.

According to district superintendent Eric Burke, the survey is the next step in a process that could result in a capital referendum to fund renovations and additions to the two schools' existing technical education facilities.

"I don't know if a referendum is where we're going to (end up) but I know that doing a survey will definitely help tell us if it's something we should do or not," Burke told the board.

According to Bob Thome, the district's director of business services, the price tag to complete the renovations/additions is approximately $26 million. That would translate to an extra $29 of property taxes on a $100,000 home.

If the school board chooses to go to referendum, that vote would not take place until April 2024, it was noted.

According to its written proposal, School Perceptions "specializes in a process that includes every member of the community. With this approach, each community member is educated about the needs of and challenges of the district."

The survey process also allows the district to gather data on community members' educational priorities and can help in understanding the "tax tolerance" associated with potential projects.

People will be able to fill out the survey online or on paper. Once the survey process is complete, School Perceptions will break down the results based on key community subgroups.

"After completing more than 900 community projects over the past 20 years, the School Perceptions methodology has proven to be highly predictive," the proposal states.

"At the end of the day people are more likely to support this plan that you have been working on for years, if they understand it and have a voice in creating it," added Bill Foster, president of School Perceptions.

The district staff/administration portion of the presentation included information on the district's current technical education offerings, students' increased interest and enrollment in tech ed courses, and the administration's visits to other schools around the state to gather information on what is offered elsewhere.

It was also stressed that local industry representatives are supportive of the district's efforts to update technical education facilities.

Through the Inspire Rhinelander program, the district has been able to gather important feedback from industry leaders as to what they are looking for in future employees.

This program also allows students to get a hands-on look at a potential future careers.

Mike Wojtusik, a technical education instructor at Rhinelander High School for 25 years, shared his perspective on changing attitudes toward technical education.

"I've been down this road a couple times prior to this where we looked at doing some upgrades to the tech ed facilities, I can tell you that this one does feel different," he said, noting that approximately 50 industry leaders have participated in brain-storming meetings related to this project, evidence of a level of support he said he hasn't seen before in 25 years.

"The need is evident and the timing is excellent," he added.

A decision as to whether to go to referendum must be made by January 2024, the board was advised.

The $500,000 Dr. Lee Swank recently pledged for tech ed upgrades can be applied to this project, Burke noted.

After hearing the presentation - and asking a number of questions throughout - the board voted to authorize the survey.

The surveys are expected to be in mailboxes by October.

In other business, the district also expressed its best wishes to Jeff Zdroik who is retiring after 36 years in the district's buildings and grounds department.

The board also offered congratulations to Rachel Hoffman, who is leaving the Rhinelander district to take the district superintendent position in Phillips. Hoffman has worked in the Rhinelander district for 22 years, most recently serving as the district's director of instruction.

Heather Schaefer may be reached at heather@rivernews

online.com.

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