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Talk of merging New Berlin middle, high schools fades

Nov. 13, 2012

New Berlin - With the New Berlin School Board expressing no interest Monday in pursing a couple of fairly drastic changes at the middle/high schools, development of a facilities maintenance plan that will affect schools for decades can proceed.

One of those potential changes was whether the district would move from two middle/high schools to one middle school and one high school. The other potential change was sharing sports and co-curricular activities with some being at one school and the others at the other school or whether each middle/high school would keep its own sports teams with their own athletic fields. Both these ideas had kicked around for a while and both have implications for facilities planning, said Roger Dickson, chief financial and operating officer.

He said he didn't expect any changes Monday but just wanted to be sure so that no time or resources would be lost. The preliminary maintenance plan carries a price tag of $22.6 million to $32.6 million, although Dickson said he would never bring $32.6 million of projects to the board.

There was strong support Monday for keeping the combined middle/high school setup.

The district looked at the arrangement four years ago and found no reason to change, board member Art Marquardt said.

Member Keith Hastings also observed that in the long debate over closing Glen Park Elementary School, it became clear that the majority of parents like it the way it is.

The board also supported keeping the sports teams and clubs where they are.

This was of lesser importance from a facilities standpoint, Dickson acknowledged. There will still be room to make moves to gain efficiencies, even if the board now supports the status quo for planning purposes.

"This does not paint us into a corner," he said.

A third question that Dickson only two weeks ago had intended to ask the board is whether it wants to study going in with the city on building a class A athletic facility. But that idea was only in the most preliminary stages and Dickson didn't even inquire about it Monday.

Once he gets solid cost estimates, Dickson also said he wanted to be sure the board supports a frank discussion of project costs and benefits, without their evaluations being blurred by tricks that some boards use. They borrow for projects just when previous debts are paid off, so it looks like the new project costs nothing. He called it playing games with taxpayers.

But the board agreed that evaluating the projects on their own merits is the path to take. If the board decides to go ahead, then he will structure the debt so it has the least impact on taxpayers, Dickson said.

Dickson said he hoped to have a detailed plan to the School Board in January.

Public input would be sought in February through April, a preliminary School Board decision would be made in June, public comment from July through September and then a decision would be made on whether to go ahead, Dickson said.

There is some urgency for the district to move forward to get a start on its list of millions of dollars of maintenance projects, Dickson said, noting that historically low interest rates may not last much longer.

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