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District, city to investigate sale of school property

Mequon-Thiensville could use cash, enrollment infusion

Aug. 21, 2013

Mequon — A joint task force of city and school district administrators will soon begin researching the details surrounding the potential sale of about 100 acres of district property at Swan and Donges Bay roads.

The administrative team is also tasked with creating a mission statement of sorts with regard to development of the property, that both the Common Council and School Board can agree to.

The decision to create the task force was made after a lengthy discussion by a joint meeting of the Common Council and School Board that spanned the topics of the district's financial situation in regard to its ongoing problem of declining enrollment, the recent city survey, and the potential sale of the district's Swan Road and former Range Line School properties.

In order to pursue residential development on the Swan Road property as the district is suggesting, the School Board and Common Council will need to agree on density requirements and rezoning, and will need to get clearance from the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District to extend sewer infrastructure into the area. City administrators said the legwork could potentially be completed by the district's next annual meeting in July 2014. By state law districts may only sell property at annual meetings.

"We're kind of on the same page from the start on this one," Alderwoman Pam Adams said of the project, which falls within the city's designated central growth area and could give the School District a much needed cash infusion.

Enrollment an issue

Mequon-Thiensville Superintendent Demond Means and Business Manager Gail Grieger stressed that the district may need to sacrifice programming and services in the long-term if the trend of declining enrollment isn't reversed or enrollment numbers aren't at least stabilized.

Overall revenue is tied to enrollment, Means said, and since enrollment has declined by more than 400 students — a number comparable to the current student population of a district school like Oriole Lane Elementary — since he began in 2005, the School Board has made a number of reductions over time.

"We've done the equivalent of closing a school, but internally," Means said. "When you hear the angst, it's because we've had the drawn out process equal to closing a school."

Grieger said state law helps in that the district is allowed $1.4 million in added revenue to offset its declining enrollment, however, Means and Grieger said if the district is to avoid cutting programs the long-term enrollment either needs to stabilize or reverse into an increasing trend.

"That would indicate our community has stabilized its ability to fund its public schools," Means said.

Looking to sell?

District administrators and the School Board see the Swan Road and former Range Line School properties as potential cash infusions if they can be sold and developed.

According to a presentation by Means, a preliminary plan to is to develop single family housing on the Swan Road property with lot sizes of a half acre with an equal amount of shared green space. Means said the district's sale of the property is contingent on the higher density and sewer service that would maximize the sale price of the property.

Means said the district is also interested in residential development on the former Range Line School property, which would represent about half of the 24-acre parcel shared between Range Line and Lakeshore Elementary.

Council members were amenable to the Swan Road project but did not take any action regarding the Range Line School project.

The administrative task force will return to the School Board and Common Council at later meetings to present its findings and progress on the Swan Road project.

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