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Nicolet merger favored

About 80 percent of survey respondents say 'yes' to feeder district consolidation

Jan. 12, 2011

Glendale — Results from a recent survey revealed interest in exploring consolidation and raising user fees at Nicolet High School to address future budget shortfalls. But other proposals, including increasing class sizes and reducing class periods within the daily schedule, were less favored.

District officials commissioned the survey through outside firm School Perceptions as such issues as future budget decisions and the possibility of a referendum hang in the balance. The survey was distributed to residents throughout Bayside, Fox Point, Glendale and River Hills.

School Perceptions sent surveys to about 13,000 households. Ten percent of the surveys were returned.

"That is a very healthy response rate," District Administrator Rick Monroe said. "These are the likely voters."

Most questions received similar responses among parents of Nicolet High School students and non-parents. For instance, a question about exploring consolidation of Nicolet and its feeder districts resulted in "yes" responses of 78 and 81 percent, respectively. Three K-8 districts feed into Nicolet, a separate school district. The feeders include Fox Point-Bayside, Glendale-River Hills and Maple Dale-Indian Hill.

Although specific percentages were not revealed at the meeting, Foster said the "yes" respondents to the consolidation question were consistent throughout all three feeder districts.

What about referendum?

The survey also gauged respondents' receptiveness toward a referendum. When asked about a $2 million operating referendum to support existing programs and services, 48 percent of parents favored the proposal, while 34 percent of non-parents expressed a similar sentiment.

Separate questions with choices of different referendum options offered mixed results. Fifty-nine percent of all respondents favored a referendum if the Nicolet portion of their tax bill went up $40 annually on a home valued at $250,000. There was less support - 40 percent - for the top referendum option that would have called for a $121 annual increase.

Bill Foster, president of School Perceptions, shared the results with administrators and the School Board at a meeting last week.

"The community, in my opinion, will not support a full amount ($121 annual increase)," Foster said. "But they might support a smaller amount."

Throughout the discussion, officials pinpointed two separate issues that bubbled to the surface from the survey - whether to go to referendum this spring and the study of consolidation.

Deadline draws near

A decision on whether to go to referendum will have to be made within the next month. The deadline to include a referendum question on April ballots is Feb. 18. The merits of studying consolidation would likely be a longer-term issue.

"It's important that you communicate what will happen, in terms of cuts, if nothing is done," Foster said, referring to the referendum question. "I think that can be very compelling and can move people."

Without a referendum to increase the state-mandated tax levy cap, Nicolet could make cuts of $1 million or more to the 2011-12 budget to balance it.

"The fact is, there is a sense of urgency," Nicolet Principal Greg DePue said.

Study can't be one-sided

As for the larger-scale issue, Nicolet and its counterparts have studied consolidation in the past with at least two full-fledged efforts in 1976 and 1985. The issue was most recently discussed among the four school boards in 2004 and 2005, though a study was never conducted.

"I don't think either study went anywhere," Nicolet Business Manager Jeff Dellutri said. "But that was a different time."

If another study were to be conducted, Monroe said participation from the feeder districts would be important.

"We can't go ahead unilaterally and do this study," he said. "There would have to be a buy-in from the other participants, the feeder districts, to be a part of the study. We're very early in the process."

Nicolet's last referendum, conducted about 20 years ago, was unsuccessful.

NEXT STEP

WHAT: Nicolet school officials will continue to discuss the proposed referendum.

WHEN: 7 p.m. Jan. 19

WHERE: Nicolet High School, 6701 N. Jean Nicolet Road

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