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RRC School Board Hears Community Survey Results on a Possible Fall Referendum

The Red Rock Central School District Board learned Monday that a majority of residents who responded to a community survey say they would support a new operating levy - reduced from its current level - and the construction of a new K-12 school building.

Sue Peterson, of Wisconsin-based School Perceptions, detailed for board members results of a mail survey conducted from late May through mid June, 2020. Board members commissioned the survey as one element of a community-wide study of options for updating Red Rock school facilities, some of which date back to 1915.

Board members have indicated they expect to decide by mid-August whether to place referendum questions regarding an operating levy for instructional costs and a facilities bond for building construction on the November 3 General Election ballot.

Peterson, whose company has conducted thousands of surveys for schools, advised the board that survey results - because of those who chose to respond - are skewed in appositive direction that may not accurately represent views of the entire community.

Peterson explained that parents of current students and Red Rock Central staff completed the survey - which was mailed to all district residents - in disproportionately high numbers. Both groups generally view the possible referendum questions more positively than residents who are neither staff members nor parents of current students.

Among all survey respondents, 56 percent said they definitely or probably would vote yes to an operating levy of $700 per pupil in combination with a $41.9 million facilities bond to build a new K-12 school adjacent to existing school. Thirty-four percent said they definitely or probably would vote no to those questions; 10 percent were undecided.

The survey generated 373 responses, for a 23-percent response rate, which is substantial for a mail survey.

Since 2017, Red Rock Central schools have been developing a long-range facility plan. A community-based task force, made up of business leaders, parents and community members was formed in March of 2019. Throughout the process, the board, administrators and task force members have used the Academic Mission and Facilities Vision as their guiding principles.

The average age of the existing building, which has had a series of additions, is 76 years. The school lacks secure entrances; is largely non-compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act; and features small rooms and configurations that are not conducive to contemporary learning, which emphasizes group learning and collaboration. Electrical and plumbing systems are beyond their service life; extensive tuckpointing and other exterior work would be required to continue using the school.

The task force has recommended against an option that would renovate the existing school for $32 million. This approach, task force members say, would neither resolved issues nor result in spaces better suited to contemporary learning approaches, as $18 million would be needed simply for immediate infrastructure and code compliance updates.

By contrast, investing an additional $10 million for a new building - as conceptualized by Plymouth-based InGensa - would address ADA needs; eliminate instruction in hallways and cafeteria; increase teaching space and community access to gymnasiums; create secure entrances with checkpoints and cameras; and create a space for student collaboration and project-based learning.

The cost of a new school building, located near the existing school, would be reduced for taxpayers because the new $700 per pupil operating levy is a reduction from the current operating levy of $1,117 per student. The existing operating levy expires at the end of 2020, which means the district needs to ask voters for approval of a new levy to maintain existing programs and staffing.

Board and administrators say current programming may be maintained at a level of $700 per pupil because of cost savings from closing Jeffers School and increasing enrollment, which translates to increased state funding. Reducing the operating levy from $1,117 to $700 would reduce property taxes on a $75,000 home by $76 a year. For that same home, voter approval of a $41.9 million construction bond, coupled with the lower operating levy, would result in a net annual property tax increase of $19 a year.

The tax impact on agricultural land would also be lessened by the state’s Ag to School Property Tax relief bill, which will reduce property taxes paid on agricultural land for school improvements by 55 percent in 2021, 60 percent in 2022 and 70 percent for taxes payable in 2023 and beyond.