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New Berlin school building projects dominated district annual meeting

Aug. 29, 2014

New Berlin — Ironically, the main bone of contention at last week's New Berlin School District annual meeting wasn't the 2014-15 budget.

It was $22 million of building projects that have no source of funding at this time. Just as the school board suspected, there is a wide difference of opinion among residents about what to do about it.

Some advised holding a referendum to borrow the money needed to get the work done and some said officials should find another way that doesn't hit taxpayers.

Both sides want to protect property values but in differing ways. One side wants to spend more to get the schools in shape to attract families. The other side wants to keep taxes down to attract families because of low taxes and good schools.

Speaking of the deferred maintenance in the $22 million, resident Bill Adams said, "The School District of New Berlin is a train wreck about ready to happen.

"You've kicked the can down the road so many years to a point that there may be no resolution and indeed will be no resolution without the referendum," Adams said.

While borrowing for the repairs would take money out of taxpayers' pockets in the short term, they will receive more than they lost through higher prices when they sell their homes, he said. Schools in good shape support high property values, studies have found, Adams said.

But Keith Heun, former New Berlin School Board president, countered that studies also show that low property taxes support high home values.

"We should be lowering our taxes, not raising them," he said.

Don Melin of Overland Trail said what counts is the education children receive inside the buildings not the buildings themselves. When he went to school many years ago, Melin said, "Schools were a far, far cry from what they are today."

But Adams said New Berlin's schools must be competitive with other districts such as Elmbrook to keep property values high.

The debt refinancing the board approved came under fire by some who said if the original bonds had been paid off on time, there would be extra money to apply to building projects.

Roger Dickson, chief financial and operations officer, said after the meeting that the district will pay fewer total dollars because of the refinancing due to their lower interest rates.

If the schools finally catch up with all the years of deferred maintenance, the current board now devotes enough money to keep up with maintenance needs, Dickson said.

Board President David Maxey said after the meeting, "Over the years we have funded several capital projects (Ronald Reagan Elementary School and New Berlin West Middle/High School) within our operating budget in order to alleviate any burden on taxpayers. I think the audience recognized that because of that strategy, it has taken longer to get facilities projects done."

But some projects are already done and Maxey said, "I think our stakeholders will be happy to see all of the improvements that are being made at Eisenhower and throughout the rest of the school district."

As to the remaining projects he said, "The public will have further opportunity to provide their opinions again on facilities projects during the community poll in September."

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