ELLSWORTH – The way public school funding in Wisconsin is structured doesn’t allow districts to take on multi-million-dollar maintenance and building projects without going to the …
ELLSWORTH – The way public school funding in Wisconsin is structured doesn’t allow districts to take on multi-million-dollar maintenance and building projects without going to the taxpayers for extra help. In fact, it barely allows them to stay ahead of operating costs. That’s why Ellsworth Community School District is sending residents a survey to provide direction on future facilities planning.
The district will work with School Perceptions, which Superintendent Barry Cain calls the most predominant survey firm that schools use. He has worked with them before.
“They are very well known,” Cain said. “The variety of projects that we need to educate people on prior to the survey are many. There are so many moving parts to this, so they can better understand the projects.”
The survey should hit mailboxes around Oct. 4 and is due back by Oct. 23. People can fill them out online or on paper. A self-addressed stamped envelope will be included.
“One survey will go to every single household in the district,” Cain said. “But if people want more for their home for additional adults in their home, they can.”
Cain encourages people to fill the survey out online if they have internet capability.
The survey is broken into three major areas: High school projects, middle school projects and outdoor athletic facilities. A mailer sent out this week will provide people with information about each section, as will an open house slated for 4-6 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 1. Cain will give 15-minute presentations in the Ellsworth High School Cafetorium at 4 and 5 p.m. with opportunities for questions after. Teachers, administrators and coaches will be available to answer questions and provide facility tours.
“Staff will be here the entire time so people can see it, feel it, and see the areas we’re addressing,” Cain said.
The proposed projects total $34.3 million and reflect the district’s core mission to provide good facilities, curriculum and co-curricular activities, Cain said.
“The more people understand the projects and why they’re being proposed and how they’ve been formed, the more informed they’ll be to provide feedback,” he said. “We’re very aggressive with our maintenance on a yearly basis, but school budgets are not built to be able to provide for millions of dollars of maintenance. So the tool that districts have is the ability to present referenda to the public.”
Here’s a rundown of the prioritized projects a facilities study has pinpointed:
Ellsworth High School ($17.784 million)
Ellsworth Middle School ($8.167 million)
Phy ed/athletic outdoor spaces ($8.351 million)
At the high school, building systems need updating, though the district has done a lot with ESSER funding and Fund 46 (capital savings account) dollars, Cain said. The current tech ed area has old, outdated, cramped shops from the 1970s. The hope is to create better spaces that promote kids going into manufacturing and industrial careers.
A fitness center addition would provide an expanded weightroom and fitness classroom, essentially doubling the current space. It would also be open to the public before and after school and on weekends.
EMS is approaching its 30th birthday and with that, new doors, floors, and windows are needed, along with an updated career/tech ed area, better configured locker bays and science lab adjustments.
“The current locker bays don’t provide for much supervision,” Cain said. “We’d like to make them into more collaborative spaces.”
The outdoor facilities would include a turf football field, replacing the bleachers and the 1980s lights.
“Moving to turf would allow us to use that space a lot more for sports and the community,” Cain said. “Right now it’s just used for high school football.”
The hope is to also add an artificial turf baseball/softball complex south of the middle school.
“Many springs they can’t play on our fields because of the weather, and they’re unusable for our phy ed and youth,” Cain said. “A flexible turf field would allow us to use it for practices, youth, the community. We would also make improvements to current fields for better drainage and soil conditions.”
The survey will also ask one more question: Whether the public would support a $6.1 million childcare addition to the elementary school.
“In addition is this consideration of childcare that is to meet a local need but has not been a core part of our mission in the past to provide 0-3 childcare,” Cain said. “I’ve lost employees every single year due to childcare. Many employers are. It’s driving a lot of decisions these days, the shortage of childcare.”
In 2022, a report released by the St. Croix Valley United Way showed that St. Croix and Pierce counties are lacking 1,422 childcare spots; the 54011 zip code alone is short 240, Cain said.
“The facility would not meet the full need of the community, but it would support the need,” Cain said. “The ability to operate and staff a larger one would be a challenge.”
The survey also shows how these projects would affect tax bills. On a $100,000 home, the tax impact of $34.3 million would be a $107 increase per year on the school district’s portion of tax bills. The childcare facility would tack on an additional $18. To put this in perspective, Cain said the new elementary school was estimated to have a $120 tax impact per $100,000 of property valuation on the front end.
“One of the big things this does is this puts us at a 10-year schedule,” Cain explained. “Some debt will be done in 2026 or 2027, a 10-year cycle of debt would be going off the books. This opens up an opportunity every 10 years for the residents and district to look at what upgrades we need to do to keep up. In a sense you can do a lot for very little tax impact.”
The elementary school building will come off the books in 2035.
“We know without addressing these items, we’re going to run into a major budget crisis caused by age and life-cycle,” Cains said. “That’s what is really driving these projects, non-modern aging out and they need to be addressed. We would be leaving out major things that need to be addressed if people don’t support them.”
The survey will also ask residents how the district is doing as far as operations: Education, building pride in the community, informing people and demographic information.
An information webpage will launch on the district website around Sept. 22, where a vast majority of survey information will be available, along with project info, and short informational videos. A QR code will be on the mailer, taking you directly to the website.
Cain will speak to the Ellsworth Area Chamber of Commerce membership at noon on Sept. 28 at Zion Covenant Church. He is open to speaking before any organization who wants him to. Reach out to him at 715-273-3900.
School Perceptions will be present at the Nov. 13 school board meeting, scheduled for 6 p.m. in the EES Community room, to present on the survey findings.