Voters to decide on referendum to close West Allis-West Milwaukee high schools, open new one

NOW: Voters to decide on referendum to close West Allis-West Milwaukee high schools, open new one

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WEST ALLIS, Wis. (CBS 58) -- West Allis-West Milwaukee School District officials say their two high schools are getting too old to take care of.

Next month, voters will decide on whether or not their community needs two high schools in the future as part of the West Allis-West Milwaukee obligation bonds referendum.

West Allis-West Milwaukee School District officials said if this referendum doesn't pass, they'll have to squeeze more kids into classrooms and continue to make more repairs on buildings they say are well beyond their expiration dates.

Manager of facilities for the district, Steve Eichman, said there's no spare parts when infrastructure breaks at Nathan Hale and Central high.

"Instead of a minor repair, it becomes a major cost because you have to replace a major component of the system" said Eichman.

He said it's an issue with a more than $60 million price tag between schools.

In addition to the repairs needed, they aren't sure they need both schools either.

"Our declining enrollment is another reason why operating two comprehensive high schools financially doesn't make so much sense for us," said District Operations Director Caitlin Windler.

District Operations Director Caitlin Windler said they expect to have 600 less students in high school by 2030.

The referendum calls for a single new school, estimated to save millions a year on operating costs.

Eichman said the new yet unnamed school would be at the more spacious Nathan Hale site.

The nearly $150 million project would be a complete overhaul.

"The new structure will actually engulf the remaining Hale High School, so it really will look like a brand new high school and be a brand new high school," said Eichman.

District officials said they're working with the community on the transition process, and respectfully ending the era of the current schools in the 2026-27 school year.

Windler said they've been diligent paying down debts, so the tax rate of 1.19 being added will come with low interest.

"The tax payers will pay less in the school-based portion of their property taxes than they have since 2009 with the exception of last year," said Windler, explaining that the low rate last year was because they paid off previous debts early.

If the referendum doesn't happen, cutting programs and increasing class sizes will be needed to keep both open.

"The only way to make such large investments in our current operating budget is to cut programs and increase class sizes," said Windler, "Those simply are the largest expenses in our budget and the only way that we could possibly manage such large costs if this referendum doesn't pass."

The issue will be put to voters in the West Allis-West Milwaukee School District on April 5.

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