The Owen-Withee School Referendum

Travis Rogers, Jr.

The Owen-Withee School Referendum

5 mins

In a three-part interview with Owen-Withee School District Administrator Bob Houts in September, many topics were discussed regarding the need and plans for the November referendum next week. Since then, the numbers from the state have come in and the impact on the mil rate has softened considerably with the October 15 release of those numbers. The following is a recap of that three-part interview and it includes the updated mil rate.

Sentinel & Rural News (SRN): So, why are we spending money on this dome?

BH: I was looking at the 1964 yearbook back when the school was basically 7-12 grades, that was what our current kitchen was built for—serving lunch for Jr. High and High School. Since then, we have added 4K through 6th Grades. We have added breakfast and have been serving meals off campus. Our food service program has grown to the point where we can no longer adequately provide the services necessary. In other words, we need more space. That is why we are looking at a kitchen-cafeteria and with that a multi-purpose space. We knew that we needed that space desperately.

So, we find out about this FEMA grant that can provide so much of the needed funding. It was never “Let’s get this dome and see what we can put in it.” It was, “We have a need that has stretched back six years ago. Now we can get this building project funded through the Grant that will reduce our total payment to only one-third.

Plus, Forward Bank has committed $50,000 if we match with $50,000 from business and other donors.”

SRN: That’s an important point—the need was there before the FEMA Grant dome was even considered.

BH: Right. We never said, “Hey! FEMA will give us money to build a dome. Let’s go do it!” We had this need identified for a long time and it has only gotten worse. We served 75,000 meals from the time we closed in mid-March until the end of June. We closed on March 18 and started serving food on March 20, I believe. And now we have started up again.

SRN: And then there’s the tornado shelter.

O-W Administrator Bob Houts (Photo by Travis Rogers, Jr.)

BH: In my time here, we have had six tornado warnings. Remember when we were in school and you had to sit in the halls and put a book over your head? I wanted to stop that immediately. No kids in the halls, so we go to closets, bathrooms. Now we can have a dome that can withstand an F-5 tornado. In addition to that, community members can come here for that, if they need to.

I think of that tornado that struck here in June and there were people who were without power for 11-12 hours. If they could have come here, they would have had power, internet access and all that so people could have been sheltered and not sitting in the dark.

SRN: The shelter, then, is really a bonus and not the primary function and need.

BH: Exactly. We were given $2 million to help meet our need, if we would also provide the shelter. If we didn’t have the need for the cafeteria and kitchen, we would have never thought twice about building this dome.

SRN: Let’s discuss the mil rate and the impact on taxpayers in the Owen-Withee District.

Bob Houts (BH): The mil rate for 2020-21 is scheduled, the way I calculate it, to go down to $8.08. Actually, it may be even lower than that right now because we lost some kids, so the revenue limit goes down. Right now, the rate is $8.62. The impact of the referendum will be 42¢ which will take the mill rate back up to $8.50. That means the comparison to last year is 8¢ LESS than the 2019-20 year

[Editor’s Note: After the increase of $300,000 in state aid, Houts prediction of a lower mil rate was right on target. The levy dropped down to $7.90, far below the conservatively predicted $8.08. As a result, with the passing of the referendum, the new mil rate would amount to $8.33, dropping the rate 29¢ from last year.]

SRN: So, with the passing of the referendum, the Owen-Withee District taxpayer is still paying LESS than last year.

BH: Correct. So, we build the new kitchen/cafeteria/multi-purpose space and the Tech Ed addition and we are still 12¢ lower than last year. All good news.

SRN: Can you explain the community space?

BH: That space will be for community use for large groups, small groups—boy scouts, cub scouts, girl scouts—everybody can use that facility. One of the problems now is that the scouts can’t meet here at night because of the use for sports practices. The dome will not be used for gym space and so the scout, for example, can use that space and it can be divided up for multiple-group use. Outside groups can use. Our archery team can practice there. Right now, they practice at 6:30 in the morning in the little elementary gym. 

I would love to get the OWACC Business Expo back here, if that could work out. We, by no means, want to “steal” it from the Old School but the Chamber could, at least, have some options.

And the Mennonites used to come here to present some of their classes and meetings and they just outgrew the gym and cafeteria. We would love to see them have their large meetings here.

And we would love to have your Jazz festival here for a night or two before the weekend gigs at the Winery. Bring them here for a Thursday night alcohol-free performance for the community.

I just want it to become a community facility that could be used by the community for all the things that we can’t do right now.

SRN: The other big development is the $800,000 Tech Ed expansion.

BH: The big part of that addition is really in two pieces although it will look like one piece. We are adding onto the south and what we are looking to do is half of that will be welding space because our exhaust back there is not good, so we add that space and move the machinery to give us needed room to do what we need to do. That area has grown significantly since we partnered with CVTC and the NSF Grant which brings that trailer in. Not only do they bring the trailer but we have gotten a lot of machinery, welding stuff, machining stuff, that is permanently housed here. Then, outside of what is the wood shop, we add on the same amount of space—maybe a little bit less—than what we had in the metal shop to make a fire-code compliant spray booth. That way, we could bring back the Ag Tech tractor program for FFA. It is a big money-maker for them but it is also an important part of the Ag Tech/Mechanics education. Because, right now, it is being sprayed elsewhere. We want to bring that back in-house.

But it will also be used for Arts programs, too.

The final piece of that addition will be that 12x20 foot area that is used as a greenhouse. We will take that out and restore lots of square feet for the wood shop. That will be on the southwest corner of the new addition. Our horticulture classes, our natural resources classes, and our botany classes will be able to use that. 

This article was orginally reported by
Travis Rogers, Jr.

Travis is the Publisher with Nicole and is the Editor-in-Chief and Sales Manager.