MMSD asking Madison voters to approve historic referendum

MADISON, Wis. — An important decision facing Madison voters Nov. 3rd is a historic ask from The Madison Metropolitan School District.

The district is asking for a total of $350-million with two questions. Most of the money will go to renovate the city’s four main high schools.

News 3 Now recently got a tour of Madison East High School to see what type of shape it’s in. The school was built nearly a century ago. If Question 1 passes, Madison East would be in line for a $70-million upgrade.

Head custodian Barry Thruman showed us around and took us to his office.

“(We’re) below the building. In the dungeon, in the tunnel, we call it,” Thruman said after we walked through a room with a dirt floor which was a graveyard of broken toilets.
Thruman, who’s been at East for more than 15 years, is constantly fixing and repairing.

“I get anywhere from 30 to 50 emails a day. (They’re) mainly (from) teachers that need something fixed,” Thruman says.

The most common complaints Thurman says are heating and cooling problems. The school has a row of boilers in the basement. Four out of five of them work. One is more than 50 years old.

“We run that in the wintertime when it gets really cold,” Thruman says.

The East High School principal says the temperature inside the school varies greatly from classroom to classroom.

“If kids aren’t comfortable it’s difficult for them to focus on their learning,” says Principal Brendan Carney.

Hard water is another issue that would be addressed by the capital referendum. Minerals in the water wreak havoc on the plumbing fixtures that Thruman says he’s constantly repairing. This was evident in the girls’ shower room, where fixtures were covered with hard water build-up, some rusted. If the referendum passed, the boys’ and girls’ locker room would be in for an upgrade.

The lockers in the hallways and the desks in the classrooms also show their age and are falling apart. Thruman says he spent weeks this summer fixing broken lockers and can’t buy certain parts for desks.

East High School would also get a full exterior renovation, including a new main entrance.

MMSD has outlined projects at the high schools on this website. If you go down to the FAQ section you can put in your property value to see what your financial impact would be.

There is no official opposition to the referendum, but Blacks for Political and Social Action in Dane County has some concerns, including moving ahead with the referendum during a pandemic.
The group says they “have not been presented with evidence that links additional public expenditures with increasing the academic performance of African American students.”

Property taxpayers would see a sizeable increase if both questions pass. For the average property in the district, which is $311,000, taxpayers would see an increase of $184 in the first year, $470 in the fourth year.

Construction would be scheduled to wrap up in 2024.

Capital funding would also pay for a new elementary school in the Rimrock neighborhood. The capital referendum funding would be paid off over 22 years. The operational referendum would last four years.