Referendum vote on spring ballot
District ‘committed to improving’ tech ed program
By Eileen Persike
RHINELANDER – Voters in the School District of Rhinelander will decide in April whether the tech ed programs at Rhinelander High School and James Williams Middle School will be upgraded.
The Board of Education voted unanimously last week to place the $26 million referendum on the ballot in the spring election.
The ballot verbiage will state the financing will pay for facility improvements consisting of “construction of additions and renovations at RHS, including for technical education, classrooms and labs; construction of additions, renovations, safety, security and site improvements at JWMS, including for technical education and classrooms; district-wide capital maintenance, infrastructure improvements and accessibility updates; and acquisition of furnishings, fixtures and equipment.”
Superintendent Eric Burke said there isn’t enough space at RHS to accommodate the numbers of students interested in taking classes related to trades. Some of the equipment students are using was made in the 1950s.
“I think it’s important that we’ve been talking with our community partners and looking at our facility needs in the district and this came as a priority, not just for the school, students and our programs, but what our community is saying that we need to invest in,” said Burke. “We have a lot of our partners in the trades and they’re seeing a great need for employees.”
The board’s decision to move forward with the referendum followed a district-wide survey conducted last fall by School Perceptions, an education research firm. Nearly three-quarters of respondents said they would support the referendum. In October Bill Foster, with School Perceptions, told the board at that time support was around 73% for the projects. One of the key demographics that supports the referendum, according to survey results, is resident non-parents at 71%.
“With the survey, everything points to a very supported project,” Burke said. “Right now, it’s estimated to be $29 for each $100,000 of property value but that can fluctuate. It may be much less, but we are estimating high. The cost, for our tax payers, is a very good value.”
An additional tech ed teacher was hired last fall, but Burke said there is so much interest in the program, he could add more instructors.
“We have great academic four-year college programs going on and we also want to bulk up our trades program and our CTE because we want to be able to support all kids and all their interests,” Burke said. “It’s time that we do something in the high school in this area.”
In the mean time, a $500,000 donation from Dr. Lee Swank to the tech ed program may be put to use this year to purchase equipment that would be above and beyond the referendum.
“We’re committed to improving this tech ed area,” said Burke. “The passage of this referendum would be incredible for our students and for our community.”