Rec center referendum could be last for Shawano School District for decades

Facilities director points out debt will drop in 2026, 2031
Lee Pulaski
City Editor

A potential referendum for a joint recreation center between the city of Shawano and the Shawano School District is still months away, but the district appears confident that it would be the last referendum it would need to request for the next 20 years.

Jeff Easter, the district’s buildings and grounds director, said that one of the more common questions he has been asked during a series of community meetings is how much debt the district still has from two previous referenda.

“We started digging around and looking at that and seeing what the future forecast is for debt,” Easter said.

In 2010, a successful referendum enabled the district to build Hillcrest Primary School and update Olga Brener Intermediate School, and another in 2016 allowed it to upgrade Shawano Community Middle School. With Shawano Community High School opening in 1997, all of the district’s facilities are currently in a state where major, multi-million-dollar renovations would not be needed, according to Easter.

“I can confidently say that for the next 20 to 25 years, we do not see any major facility borrowing we will need to do,” he said.

The district is currently paying an average of $3 million annually on the debt for the 2010 and 2016 referenda. Passing the recreation center referendum, currently estimated at $28 million, is expected to add another $1 million to the debt beginning in 2021.

However, the district would retire the debt for Hillcrest in 2025, bringing the payments back to current levels, according to Easter. The middle school debt will be paid off by 2031, he said, which would bring the total annual debt payments to $2 million, but the district could refinance that debt in 2026, which could cut down on the interest owed and possibly end the middle school debt a year early.

“That was kind of eye-opening when we saw it,” Easter said. “We thought that was pretty good.”

Easter said it was important for the public to be aware that, even if the recreation center referendum passes and taxes go up an expected 57 cents per $1,000 of equalized valuation, the taxes won’t stay high forever.

The district plans to include a chart with the debt information when it sends out the community survey in early October.

“As we disseminate this information to the public, we want to be as accurate as possible and not give out numbers that don’t turn out to be true, if it does come to fruition,” Easter said.

He noted there will be some minor renovation projects at all the schools in the coming years, but the district has been saving money to pay for those projects.

“We’re really looking ahead and making sure we can take care of stuff as it comes along,” Easter said. “There are some districts that will just let things go bad everywhere to the point where they can’t afford to fix it all, and then they do a major referendum. That’s not our approach.”