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Port Washington

State aid hike gives PW-S schools a windfall PDF Print E-mail
Written by BILL SCHANEN IV   
Wednesday, 29 October 2014 17:57

Largest general aid increase received by any district in county will give residents bigger tax break than expected 

    An increase in general state aid — the largest received by any school district in Ozaukee County this year — will give Port Washington-Saukville School District taxpayers a significantly greater tax break than expected, according to a 2014-15 budget approved by the school board Monday.

    The district will receive $595,432 more in state general aid this year, a $4.6% increase that brings the total amount of general aid to $13.5 million.    

    For the first time in three years, the state is paying more to educate students in the Port-Saukville School District than local taxpayers are.

    Why? Because relative to other school districts, the Port-Saukville school system is poorer in terms of property value given the number of students it educates.

    The formula used to determine state general school aid is complex, but to a large extent it is based on property value and enrollment.

    The property value per student in the Port-Saukville District is $573,540, the lowest in the county. The second lowest is $682,646 for the Northern Ozaukee School District in Fredonia.

    “That surprises me because when you look at the Northern Ozaukee District, you think we have to be more property rich,” Jim Froemming, the director of business services for the Port-Saukville School District, said.

    But, he noted, the Northern Ozaukee District educates far fewer students, 821 compared to Port-Saukville’s 2,611.

    And although Fredonia based, the Northern Ozaukee school system includes valuable Saukville industrial property as well as Town of Belgium lakefront properties.

    The property value per student is $731,407 in the Grafton School District, $754,994 in the Cedarburg School District and $1.3 million in the Mequon-Thiensville School District, which receives just $2.2 million in state general aid.

    Port-Saukville School Supt. Michael Weber noted that an increase in state aid does not equate to more money for education.

    “If we receive more state aid and the revenue limit stays the same, our students realize no benefit,” he said. “But it does result in tax relief, and in a sense we’re getting our fair share of state aid instead of it being distributed elsewhere in the state.”

    The school board on Monday approved a 2014-15 tax levy of $13.8 million, a $403,856 (2.85%) decrease from last year.

    The decrease in the levy, combined with a 4% increase in the district’s equalized property value, results in a tax rate of $9.22 per $1,000 of property value, a 6.6% decrease that will reduce the tax rate by 66 cents per $1,000 of value.

    That means that the owner of a $175,000 home, adjusted for appreciation, will pay about $49 less in school taxes this year.

    The actual savings will depend, however, on where that home is located and how the value of that community compares to others in the district.

    For instance, in the City of Port Washington, where equalized property values increased 4.4%, the average tax savings is estimated by the district to be $46.    

    In the Village of Saukville, however, where property value increased by only 2.7%, the average homeowner can expect to pay about $72 less in school taxes.

    The amount of money residents pay to support schools is controlled by state revenue limits, but there are exceptions that affect the tax levy.

    Districts are allowed to exceed those limits if, for instance, voters approve referendums, and in that regard the Port-Saukville School District is an aberration. It is the only district in the county that does not have referendum debt, a fact that officials have noted as they prepare a multi-million-dollar spending plan that will need to be approved by voters if the district is to renovate Port Washington High School and address space concerns at the elementary schools.

    Districts are also allowed to tax beyond revenue limits for community service expenses — those attributable to community use of school facilities, such as gyms. The Port-Saukville School District will levy $252,411 for community service this school year.

    The problem for districts is that the state has frozen community service levies. That could be a challenge for the Port-Saukville School District, whose architect has proposed building regulation gyms at Saukville and Lincoln elementary schools, as well as Port Washington High School, to meet not only the needs of students but the increasing demand from the community for gym space. Under the community service levy freeze, the district cannot tax more to cover its costs of providing and maintaining facilities used by the community even if it builds new facilities for that purpose, Froemming said.

    “The state is basically saying, if you’re going to add these kinds of facilities, you may have to charge the community more in fees (not taxes) to use them,” he said.

    Although the district does not have referendum debt, it is repaying a $1.8 million loan used to finance improvements. Because the improvements will result in verifiable energy savings, state law allowed the district to borrow the money without voter approval.

    The district launched the $2.27 million project in 2012, opting to finance $1.8 million of that cost to make improvements that ranged from the installation of energy-efficient lighting to new heating and cooling systems.

    The improvements resulted in an energy savings of $57,167 over the last year, $21,630 of which will be used to reduce this year’s debt payment. The payment plan calls for the district to make annual payments of about $195,000 over 10 years. This year’s payment will be $171,100 because of the savings applied to the debt.

City vote to replace sirens bucks area trend PDF Print E-mail
Wednesday, 22 October 2014 20:23

Port council decides to spend $22,468 to upgrade warning devices while other communities question need

    Bucking the trend of municipalities seeking to eliminate their tornado sirens, the Port Washington Common Council on Tuesday voted to replace the warning siren at its Wisconsin Street tower this fall.

    Aldermen agreed to spend $22,648 to replace one of the city’s four warning sirens, with two others to be replaced in the coming years.

    “All of them are getting old,” City Administrator Mark Grams said. “They still work, but they’re on their last toes now.”

    It’s getting hard for the city to obtain parts when the sirens need to be repaired, he said.

    The sirens are a necessary piece of the city’s infrastructure, Ald. Paul Neumyer said.

    “It’s an important warning for the populace,” he said.

    In 2011, Village of Saukville officials weighed whether it was worth upgrading their warning sirens in an age when cell phones are prevalent and offer almost immediate notification of emergencies.

    Before trustees made a decision, American Signal Corp. of Milwaukee pledged to make the improvements at no cost to the village.

    And earlier this year, when Town of Fredonia officials considered removing a malfunctioning siren in Little Kohler, noting that the replacement cost was estimated to be between $30,000 and $40,000, the company again stepped in, repairing the siren at no cost to the community.  

    In Port, there was no debate about whether to replace the emergency sirens. Officials agreed now is the time to begin repairing them, especially since American Signal has a crew in the area and offered the city a 15% discount.  

    Officials decided to replace the Wisconsin Street siren before the others, Grams said, because it is centrally located and covers a larger portion of the city than the other three.

    Two of the other sirens — one near Dunwiddie Elementary School on the city’s west side and the other near the Port Washington-Saukville School District office on Monroe Street on the north side — will be replaced in 2016 and 2017, he said, as the budget allows.

    The fourth siren, at the highway department, won’t be replaced, Grams said, noting its coverage area overlaps the others.

    The sirens are at least 20 years old, Grams said.

    “I think they’ve been up longer than I’ve been with the city,” he said.

    Even though the city is replacing the siren, residents may still hear it going off occasionally when it shouldn’t, Grams said.

    Most of the time that occurs, it’s because of wiring issues, he said.

Works Board urges city to cut back on brush pickup PDF Print E-mail
Wednesday, 15 October 2014 19:08

Recommendation calls for paring spring, fall collecting to save money, free up crews

    Brush collection in the City of Port Washington will be a little less frequent next year if a plan recommended by the Board of Public Works is adopted by the Common Council.

    The board recommended that the city collect brush from the curb on alternate weeks in spring and fall, but retain its weekly collection during the summer.

    That will save the city almost $4,000 next year and free street department workers to do other tasks, officials said.

    “In the summer, summer employees do the work,” Public Works Director Rob Vanden Noven said, noting these employees are typically students who make $8 to $9 an hour.

    “When they go back to college, we have two full-time employees who do this work. We lose two very skilled employees who pick up brush when they could be doing many other things.

    “We’re losing a lot of productivity.”

    The alternate week pickup would occur from April 15 to May 15, and again from Sept. 1 to Nov. 1.    Weekly collection would run from May 15 to Sept. 1.

    Ald. Kevin Rudser suggested that the city collect brush only once a month and  instead open the city yard on Sundays, allowing people to drop off brush there instead.

    “I know it’s one of those things people really like,” Rudser said, but the added convenience of being able to drop off yard waste another day each week might offset any potential problems.

     But Street Commissioner Dave Ewig said that isn’t practical, since there isn’t enough room at the yard to store the volume of waste.

    Ewig said he is willing to give the proposed new schedule a shot, but noted that the service is one residents value.

    “We certainly want to make the best use of our manpower,” he said. “My only concern is, especially in spring, people do a lot of trimming and we get a lot of brush.”

    Board Chairman Craig Czarnecki reiterated the fact that residents value the pickup.

    “The only time I got an earful from someone (about city services) is from a neighbor whose brush wasn’t picked up as quickly as he thought it should be,” he said.

    If the system doesn’t work out, the city could revert back to weekly collection in 2016, board members said.

School district to unveil survey results Oct. 14 PDF Print E-mail
Written by BILL SCHANEN IV   
Wednesday, 08 October 2014 19:27

Buildings and Grounds Committee will hold meeting to review residents’ input on options for improving facilities

    The first indication of whether Port Washington-Saukville School District residents are willing to pay for school improvements totaling between $86 and $97 million will come next week when the results of a survey completed Tuesday are presented to school officials.

    The school board’s Building and Grounds  Committee will meet at 6 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 14, in the Port Washington High School library to review survey results presented by School Perceptions, the Slinger firm hired to poll residents.

    School officials have said the results of the survey, which was mailed to about 8,000 homes, will be a key factor in deciding whether to hold what would be the most expensive referendum in the history of the district.

    A good first step in that process was a strong response to the survey, Supt. Michael Weber said.

    More than 2,100 surveys — about 25% of those distributed —  were completed and returned.

    “School Perceptions indicated that this is the best response to a survey they have received this year,” Weber said. “The greater the response, the better and more accurate the information that will be used to decide what the next steps will be.”

    The school improvement proposal drafted by Bray Architects addresses two major needs in the district — elementary schools that are at capacity and an old, inefficient high school that dates to 1931 and has grown over the years through a series of additions.

    To address the high school needs, Bray Architects has recommended two options — create a like-new school by demolishing about 70% of the current school and rebuilding on the current site at 427 W. Jackson St. for $61 million or build a new school at a site yet to be determined for $72 million.

    Building a new Port High has not been thoroughly studied because the district does not have a school site, which school officials have noted would likely be outside the City of Port Washington.

    Bray’s plan for renovating the existing high school calls for new classrooms, science labs, an art studio, cafeteria, library and arena-style competition and auxiliary gyms separated by wrestling, weight training and fitness rooms.

    The parts of the school that would be renovated rather than rebuilt are the Washington Heights building on the north end of the school, the technology education wing to the west of it and the auditorium at the southeast end of the school.

    Plumbing, heating and electrical systems in the school would be replaced. Antiquated safety systems such as fire alarms, exit lighting and the backup generator, bathrooms that do not comply with Americans with Disabilities standards and the roof would be addressed.

    To deal with space needs at the elementary schools, Bray Architects has proposed building additions  at Lincoln and Saukville elementary schools that would include large gyms and community rooms. Existing gyms would be redesigned to provide additional classrooms and library space.

    At Dunwiddie Elementary School, an addition would be built on the north side of the building to provide a more secure entrance, community room and classrooms.

    Deferred maintenance projects would be undertaken at all elementary schools. They include the replacement of roofs, security and safety upgrades, replacement of mechanical, plumbing and electrical systems, parking lot, sidewalk and playground improvements and kitchen upgrades.

    The elementary school projects are estimated to cost $25 million.

    Many of the new facilities at the elementary schools and Port High, in particular the gyms, would be designed with community use in mind to alleviate the demand for indoor recreation space.

    The survey asked residents whether they support the elementary school projects and which of the high school options, if either, they favor.

    It also asked whether residents support funding both the elementary school and high school projects at the same time, which would cost $86 or $97 million depending on the high school option, or prioritizing them.

Port’s online driver’s ed a first for high schools PDF Print E-mail
Written by BILL SCHANEN IV   
Wednesday, 01 October 2014 18:29

PWHS offers video version of classroom instruction it believes will attract students throughout Wisconsin

    Port Washington High School wasn’t alone a decade ago when it cut driver’s education from its curriculum to save money, but it is now.

    Two weeks ago, Port High became the first high school in Wisconsin to reintroduce the classroom portion of driver’s ed in an online version open not just to its students but teenagers throughout the state.

    Administrators say the class, which is certified by both the Wisconsin departments of Public Instruction and Transportation, is just as rigorous as its classroom predecessor, far more convenient and potentially profitable for a school district that is already marketing it to soon-to-be drivers.

    “We designed this program to meet the needs of our students, but that said, there’s potential for us to also capture a portion of the driver’s-ed market in the state with this  rigorous DPI and DOT-certified course,” Jim Froemming, the district’s director of business services, said. “It’s a very attractive program, and we think it could also be lucrative for the district.”

    The district is charging $129 for the course and splitting the revenue with the program’s certified instructor, Scott Bretl, who developed the course.

    Bretl owns the Port Washington-based driver’s education franchise Just Drive, but his company is not involved in the online program. Instead, Bretl is employed by the School District to monitor and teach the course.

    In Wisconsin, online driver’s education classes must be offered by schools, which explains why Bretl approached the district with the idea of launching a web-based class.

    Currently, only a technical college in southwest Wisconsin and a Cooperative Education Service Agency (CESA) offer online driver’s education classes in Wisconsin.

    Driver’s education had been part of the school curriculum until nearly 10 years ago, when the Department of Public Instruction stopped reimbursing for the cost of the program. That prompted many school systems, including the Port-Saukville District, which was faced with a $700,000 deficit at the time, to drop driver’s education.

    Now, the district’s online version is being billed as a cost effective program that capitalizes on convenience.

    Before the online class, students had to fit 30 hours of classroom instruction offered by a private provider into their schedules either after school or during the summer. They are able to take the online classes at any time and anywhere they have access to a computer and the Internet, although they will still have to complete the behind-the-wheel training, which is not offered by the district.

    “Now that all high school students have Chromebooks, they can take driver’s ed during their study halls,” Bretl said when the program was approved by the School Board in June.

    But that’s not to say the online course will be easier than the classroom alternative or that students will be able to whip through the 30-hour program in a day or two.

    The course consists of 40 sessions that are at least 45 minutes long. Students can spend more than 45 minutes on each session — an advantage, administrator say, over the classroom alternative — but not less time.

    Students can take only one course a day during the school year and two during the summer. That means that the course runs a minimum of six weeks during the school year and three weeks during the summer.

    Each class consists of an overview presented in video form by an instructor, a public service announcement, reading assignment from the Wisconsin Motorists’ Handbook and video with material that will be on a session quiz.

    Each quiz, which students must pass in order to move to the next session, will consist of 15 multiple choice questions. If students fail the quiz, they will be allowed to retake it once before they are locked out of the program. Before they are allowed to continue, the instructor must speak with their parents.

    A final test must be passed before students are given a course completion certificate and allowed to take behind-the-wheel instruction.

    “This is not going to be an easy way of taking the classroom portion of driver’s education, as this is going to take motivation and self-discipline,” Bretl says in a video introduction to the course.

    The video features 14 Port Washington High School graduates, most of them law enforcement officers, who emphasize the seriousness of driving responsibly.

    In the video, Bretl appears seated at a desk superimposed on the Port High football field and later at the Port Washington marina, and promises to feature other areas of Port and Saukville in his online lectures.

    “I did this so it’s not so boring watching me give these lectures,” he says.

    The driver’s education class can be accessed at

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