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Survey Shows Support for Consolidating City Elementary Schools

A survey conducted on behalf of the Sturgeon Bay School District in October revealed broad public support for closing Sunset Elementary School.

The survey was conducted in cooperation with School Perceptions – an independent firm with expertise in conducting school surveys – to inform the district’s evaluation of facilities as it plans upgrades. Bill Foster of School Perceptions presented the survey results at a Nov. 5 learning session.

“We focused the elementary planning on options that included closing Sunset Elementary due to its size, age and identified maintenance needs,” said Superintendent Dan Tjernagel.

The cost of additions and updates districtwide could exceed $30 million.

The survey results showed that residents support a referendum of up to $20 million. Among nonparents and nonstaff residents who completed the survey, the financial ceiling was lower, at up to $15 million.

The next step in choosing a dollar amount is determining what’s critical and which options exist within that limit, Foster said.

Last spring, the district hired Eppstein Uhen Architects and Miron Construction to evaluate the state of each building and identify needs. Four main issues were noted: school security, aging building components, lack of educational flexibility and lack of building/teacher utilization.

The survey generated 840 responses and a participation rate of 16 percent. Foster characterized the response rate as below expectations, but he predicted more would come in.

The survey was broken down into the subgroups of all residents, parents (nonstaff), staff, and nonparents (nonstaff). Foster said the nonparents (nonstaff) category provides the most important data pieces to pay attention to because those survey respondents represent the group that is unbiased and gets the most votes.

Results showed that 79 percent of likely voters support exploring a referendum, and 75 percent support reconfiguring the elementary schools. The district currently operates three elementary schools: Sunset, Sunrise and Sawyer.

The district proposed two plans to reconfigure the elementary schools. One option would send 4K and kindergarten students from Sunset to Sawyer so that Sawyer would instruct 4K through second grade instead of just grades one and two. Sunrise Elementary would still host third through fifth grades. This plan would add four classrooms to Sawyer to accommodate more students and update major building systems (heating, electrical, plumbing) at a cost of $9.9 million.

The second option would send 4K and kindergarten students from Sunset to Sawyer so that Sawyer would instruct 4K through first grade. Sunrise would instruct grades two through four, and fifth-grade students would go to middle school. This plan includes updating facilities to accommodate new students in addition to the same maintenance as the first option, with a total cost of $7.8 million.

Though more expensive, option one drew more support, with 48 percent of all survey respondents supporting it.

Middle school and high school projects would include enhancing career and technical education (CTE) classrooms and labs, improving building security, renovating and relocating classrooms, and updating building components and systems, all of which survey respondents indicated they’d likely support.

Should the Sturgeon Bay School District Board of Education decide to move forward with some combination of the identified projects, residents could have the opportunity to vote on them as early as the April 2020 election.

A final report on the survey is anticipated before Thanksgiving. Information about the preliminary survey results should be available online at sturbay.k12.wi.us this week.

Celeste Benzschawel
Peninsula Pulse