Empower Wisconsin | Nov. 6, 2019
By M.D. Kittle
How do the residents in the Shawano, Wis. area feel about paying for a proposed recreation center that could top $28 million?
Do they know the “independent survey firm” commissioned to gauge citizen sentiment has been accused of skewing the survey process in other Wisconsin communities?
Shawano local government leaders will learn the results of a community-wide survey of citizen sentiment on what one community member has labeled an “adult playground” at tonight’s joint meeting of the city council and school board.
The meeting begins at 5:30 p.m. in the Shawano Community High School library.
Local government officials have said all community members were afforded the opportunity to provide input on the proposed 100,000-square-foot Shawano Community Recreation Center. The proposal calls for a warm water pool, gym space for basketball, volleyball and tennis, a large fitness area, and an indoor track, among other amenities. It would be a shared facility, open to city and district residents.
“An independent survey firm, School Perceptions, will conduct the survey, collect the data anonymously, and provide a report for the school board and the public,” a rec center proposal page notes.
School Perceptions’ has been criticized by some for a business model that has helped school districts “grease the skids” for large spending measures, according to an investigation last year by MacIver News Service. The Slinger-based firm has assisted hundreds of school districts seeking voter approval for massive building projects, including a controversial referendum in the Cedarburg School District.
Conservative talk radio host Mark Belling pointedly criticized the firm in an op-ed, MacIver reported. With School Perceptions’ help, “…school boards and superintendents are using public money to mislead their residents and pretending to conduct honest surveys,” Belling wrote in the Waukesha Freeman piece.
One community member wrote to Cedarburg’s school administrator, “School Perceptions has built their business around helping school districts pass referendums. They are advocates, not impartial referees. Their ability to sell future projects to the next school district will depend, in part, on whether the Cedarburg referendum passes.”
The ballot question did pass last fall, 53 percent to 47 percent.
Shawano’s proposed rec center, according to the city’s estimates, could cost more than $28 million to build and $400,000 a year to maintain.
As Empower Wisconsin has reported, some Shawano residents are concerned about the price tag and whether this Northwoods community of 9,300 residents really needs a gilded fitness center.
“Some people say this all looks nice and all that other stuff, but in a community of a lot of retirees living on fixed incomes another tax increase might be enough to force them out of their house. That’s ridiculous,” said a Shawano business professional who asked not to be identified.
Randi Anderson, Shawano School District administrator, acknowledges that “in general, there would be a tax increase to the community.” Just how much, she could not say. It depends, the administrator told Empower Wisconsin, on the retirement of outstanding district debt.
Anderson said the district and the city are working together to “see if there is interest” in the project.
But it seems the process is on a fast track. The question could go to voters in a referendum as soon as spring, according to the local newspaper, the Shawano Leader.
Contact Shawano School Board members here
Contact Shawano Common Council members here