Pine Island is Growing, Asks for New School

Posted at: 11/08/2013 6:35 PM
By: Jenna Lohse

(ABC 6 NEWS) -- Will the fourth time be the charm? The Pine Island school district is looking for ways to ease overcrowding, but the community has voted against building a new high school three times in the last decade. The school board is backing a proposal for a new elementary school instead. 

Teaching a class full of first graders is what Josh Westphal loves to do, and he says the students at Pine Island make it that much better.

"There's so many great things going on at this school, there's a lot to take pride in and people are looking at Pine Island and so our class sizes are growing,” said Josh Westphal, Pine Island first grade teacher.

Meeting that growth is what Pine Island school board members are working to do. This year, they're going a new route by backing an new elementary school.

"Board members will say that they approached this really believing that a high school was the solution, but when you put all the facts together it's a hard solution with the price tag attached,” said Superintendent Tamara Berg-Beniek.

A new high school would cost $41 million, but a pre-kindergarten through fourth grade school comes in at just $25 million, creating wiggle room for a $9 million upgrade on the current campus.

"We put the coat hall in the room, our desks, our smart boards a lot of books. I mean things are starting to accumulate,” said Westphal. 

The fact that Pine Island voters have rejected a new school project three times already, means not everyone is on the same page.

"There's a lot of older residents in town and they're concerned about their property taxes rising,” said local business owner Marie Hlava. 

Marie Hlava owns the Better Brew Coffeehouse in town, and says she hears the grumblings. 

"The superintendent was in here a couple of times talking to some of the groups that met at the Coffeehouse on a regular basis, talking to them about their concerns,” said Hlava. 

School officials say transparency and community involvement is key when it comes to passing a new school referendum. Teachers like Josh Westphal are hoping this year is different.

"It would only help the students in the end and that's the beginning, middle and end, it should always come down to the students,” said Westphal. 

The three part referendum, totaling close to $35 million, will be finalized at the next board meeting and will likely be put before voters next May.