AJ Maclean

The Madison Metropolitan School District Board of Education approved a $14.5 million referendum to build a new elementary school as well as a $26 million maintenance and repair referendum for Madison schools Monday night.

President of the Board of Education Bill Keys said the state of Wisconsin imposes revenue caps on the school district, but the district needs more money. Eight of the 16 school districts in the county will be going to referendum sometime this year, and the eight districts that do not have done so in the past three years, he added.

“We’re out of money,” Keys said. “We can exceed a revenue cap if we take it to voters and ask them permission to exceed the revenue caps.”

The referendum for the new elementary school, which will share property with Leopold Elementary School, 2602 Post Rd., was passed with a six-to-one vote. The maintenance referendum, which renews a five-year repair referendum and will cover basic ongoing maintenance problems such as replacing roofs of Madison schools, barely passed with a four-to-three vote.

Carol Carstensen, clerk of the Madison Board of Education, said the maintenance referendum tackles both long-term and expected maintenance by planning for about $5 million a year in maintenance fees.

“It’s a large district with lots of buildings, and the person in charge of buildings says just replacing roofs using a 25-year cycle costs close to a million dollars a year,” Carstensen said.

According to board member Johnny Winston Jr., a third referendum regarding the operating costs within the budget has not been discussed yet. Although maintenance and operating are separate issues, they need to be looked at as a whole, he said, adding that he did not vote for the maintenance referendum.

“Until we know what the impact of our operating side of our budget is, I think it’s a little premature to think about maintenances,” Winston said. “It’s hard to tell people we’re fixing floors and we’re cutting programs.”

Carstensen said operating costs include anything from programming to costs that put people in the classroom and kids in the schools.

Keys said if the maintenance referendum is renewed and approved by the voters, it will not raise property taxes because it will remain the same rate it has been for the past five years, when the referendum was first passed.

According to Carstensen, the new elementary school would cost taxpayers $10 per year for every $100,000 their home is worth.

The elementary school will be a “paired” school with Leopold Elementary School. The schools will be connected by a cafeteria and library, and they will be divided into kindergarten through second grade in one building and third through fifth grade in the other.

“I feel that this is the right thing to do given the growth in the city,” Winston said, citing overcrowding as a problem in Madison schools.

According to Keys, the referenda will go on the ballot for voters to approve in May.

“My core value is that I always want to get as much money as I can for the students and staff because they do so well,” Keys said. “If the city of Madison doesn’t fix up these or rejects these [referenda], then the children will be going to schools that are falling apart and that won’t be repaired in adequate ways.”