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School board debates rec center agreement with city

Teacher pay, perception issues complicate discussion
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Shawano school officials held a lengthy and sometimes emotional debate Monday on a tentative agreement with the city for a proposed joint-recreation and aquatic center.

The draft agreement lays out the responsibilities for each entity if the facility goes forward, but does not commit either party to going through with the project at this point.

The proposed facility, which would replace the city’s existing recreation center and expand facilities at Shawano Community High School, will be the subject of a district-wide survey this fall.

If the survey shows sufficient interest, it will go to a school district referendum in April of next year.

The proposed facility would be located adjacent to SCHS, on the north side of the building, and would include the school’s existing competition pool.

It would add a separate community pool area; a fitness area, including weights and cardiovascular equipment; a multi-purpose space; gymnasium; racquetball court; and indoor multi-purpose facility and walking track; as well as offices, bathrooms, lockers, storage and other amenities.

The estimated cost has been placed at anywhere from $24 million to $28 million, though school district officials are hopeful that number could come down as the design concept is refined over the next few months.

The Shawano Common Council will take up the agreement Wednesday.

The Shawano School Board won’t vote on it until May 20, but there was vigorous discussion on it Monday, with the debate complicated by a separate budgetary issue.

The district has determined that its current teacher pay plan is not sustainable, and a survey was recently sent out to teachers asking for their input on what elements they value within the pay plan.

“It’s such a mixed message,” board member Chuck Dallas said. “We’re in declining enrollment, we’re having budget issues right now and we’re talking about a $28 million facility? We started out talking about expanding the weight room. Now we’re at this level. It’s the wrong message to send to the people that are working with the students on a regular basis.”

Some board members sought to keep the issues separate, explaining the district can borrow for a building project but not for operations.

“The debt fund is funded separately than our revenue limit, which is how our teacher salaries are funded,” Diane Hoffman said. “We’re not able to go out and get $28 million to pay our teachers.”

Board member Mart Grams said, however, talking about borrowing for the recreation center when teacher pay is an issue for the district creates a bad perception.

“I don’t know if philosophically we should even be building a rec center,” Grams said. “That’s not our business. We’re here to educate children.”

Board member Alysia Pillsbury said it would ultimately be the voters’ choice, not the school board’s.

“We’re giving the community the option to vote,” she said. “That’s all we’re looking to do. We’re saying, ‘here, you decide, it’s your community.’”

Dallas said he was concerned about the estimated price tag.

“I’ll be honest with you, $28 million is way out of line,” he said.

Dallas said he would like to see a business plan that would also show what kind of revenue the facility could bring in to offset some of the cost.

“This is a revenue-generating building,” he said. “A business plan will tell us how much we can afford.”

Board member Michael Sleeper responded that those things would be addressed at a later date.

“This next step is simply do we feel there is enough opportunity to work with the city to move forward to make the studies you’re talking about,” Sleeper said.