I’ve heard from a number of community members and school staff that they don’t know much about the upcoming Viroqua Area Schools Bond Referendum. While we did conduct an exhaustive process, engaging community members, staff, and school board members at more than 20 meetings in the last year, we may not have done as well as we could to communicate with the general public. Over the next month, we’ll do better. It is our responsibility as school board members to share information about the impact of a “yes” vote and a “no” vote with voters. There will be many things on the November ballot and we want everyone to be informed before they fill out a ballot, whether you are voting early, or on Nov. 6.

Strong schools =

strong communities

First, consider that our region, and our district in particular, is growing. Vernon County is among the fastest growing counties in Wisconsin. This past school year, our enrollment reached the highest point since at least 2004. Not only does growth contribute to the vitality of our communities, growth creates opportunities for our local businesses and local economy. At Viroqua Area Schools, we are committed to offering educational options that offer the best fit for students and families, but currently our facilities don’t adequately provide space for these programs. An investment in our schools is an investment in our communities. In fact, research shows that public school quality is one of the most important determinants of home value; schools directly affect a community’s vitality and home resale values.

What happens if the referendum is approved?

The referendum proposes to add new classrooms (including an expanded, renovated tech-ed and ag space), new secure entrances and safety updates, a new community activity center, and a reconfigured elementary kitchen and cafetorium. Students and community members would benefit from:

  • Stronger Local Workforce. Community businesses and the local economy benefit from an educated work force. Expanding education spaces will foster a stronger local workforce, especially in career, technical and agricultural fields.
  • Safer and More Secure Environments. The referendum would improve safety and help students and staff focus on learning while limiting the potential for threats by keeping potential conflicts out of the classroom and commons areas.
  • Expanded Extra-curricular, Co-curricular, and Community Spaces. The referendum would provide spaces that allow for arts and athletics to expand, while providing the ability to host larger events/competitions. These venues would not only allow for community activities and athletics to occur at the same time, but also provide community members with access to facilities for activities such as walking and fitness.
  • Enhanced School Choice. This referendum would enhance the education options available, supplying parents and students with more options for education, enabling them to have a greater role in their education process.
  • Well-Rounded Students. Communities benefit from well-rounded students who are kept busy (and off the streets) with multiple school opportunities before, during, and after school.

What if the referendum

is not approved?

Over the last year, accommodations have already been made due to inadequate space for the type of classwork required by today’s standards in teaching and learning. For example, teachers work with groups of children in vestibules, hallways, and other spaces not intended to be teaching space. If the referendum is not approved, more accommodations will be necessary.

  • Loss of Community Vitality. The education landscape is competitive. If we as a community don’t invest in our schools, we will be less attractive to new families that are considering their options. If new families choose to locate in a different community (that has invested in their schools), our community will ultimately become less vital.
  • Fewer Educational Opportunities. Without the added space defined in this referendum, the district cannot expand its classes, and will in-fact be forced to limit educational opportunities. Further, without added space, as early as next year, the district will be forced to move some classes out of their desired permanent spaces to makeshift spaces (e.g. “Art on a Cart”).
  • Without the expanded multipurpose spaces, we will continue to be frustrated by conflicts over limited space for extracurricular activities. This means fewer opportunities for athletics and the arts alike.
  • Needed Maintenance Will Not Occur. We have identified high-priority, long-term maintenance items that simply don’t fit within our current operating budget. And, at the elementary school, there are some defects from past construction projects that, if not addressed, will lead to further deterioration.
  • Our Needs Will Remain…and Will Be More Expensive in the Future. We as a school board whittled over $90 million of needs and wants to $36 million of “must haves.” Our needs are clear. We know that construction costs last year increased by nearly 9%, due in part to tariffs, trade wars, and labor shortages. Costs associated with future improvements will be significantly higher. We are asking voters to support these improvements now, so we can pay in “today’s dollars.”

Seek information

Residents in our communities have a history of supporting Viroqua Area Schools because they know Strong Schools = Strong Communities. We hope that you will seek out information to cast an informed vote. Please go to our website for information at https://www.vibrantviroqua.org/. You may also contact District Administrator Dr. Kehl Arnson directly at karnson@viroquablackhawk.org or (608) 637-1181 if you have any additional questions. Thank you for your past support and for helping Viroqua Area Schools continue to serve our communities.

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Scott Mills is the president of the Viroqua Area School Board

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