School taxes will drop

Thanks to Stoughton voters’ support for the April referendum, the Stoughton Area School District (SASD) is not the lowest-funded public school district in Dane County.

Now, it’s up to the district to show residents that their faith – and funding – will be money well spent.

It was a time to both look back and look ahead at Monday’s school board annual budget meeting, where a room full of voters unanimously approved a $21.5 million tax levy for the 2014-15 school year, up around 1 percent from last year, and mill rate of $11.44 per $1,000 in equalized property value. The amount means the owner of a $200,000 home in Stoughton would pay around $2,288 in school taxes, down around $26 from last year. As equalized rates vary from community to community, so will the exact value of the change.


Building a dragon

Photo submitted. The Stoughton High School production of “Shrek the Musical” will feature a 30-foot long dragon. Kristen Nett, left, will control the creature that was designed by DeeDee Bouzek, right.

There’s nothing to get your attention quite like a 30-foot dragon on stage. That’s all part of the show, though, for Stoughton Area High School’s upcoming production of “Shrek the Musical.”

To liven up the set, director DeeDee Bouzek has been working since August on a 30-foot-long puppet dragon that stands six feet tall.

It’s made out of foam, while the body is made with PVC pipes and parachute. For the finishing touches, Bouzek spray-painted the whole dragon.

The dragon is not the only puppet on set, however. There is also a puppet for the Gingy, the gingerbread man, created by SASD student Kyra Carbone.

The set is made to look like a large bookshelf, designed by Amanda Potratz, and throughout the play, the books open up to reveal the scenery. Projections will also assist in creating the scenery.


Enrollment drop continues

The Stoughton Area School District’s recent trend of declining enrollment has continued, with 38 fewer students than last year, and no end to the drain in sight.

Talking about the state’s official “Third Friday” student head count at Monday night’s school board meeting, district finance director Erika Pickett said the decline does not look like it’s going to change anytime soon, either. She pointed out this year’s kindergarten class of 192 is down significantly from the senior class of 258; a decrease of around 25 percent.

“Our trend kind of continues … where kindergarten classes are quite a bit smaller than our exiting senior classes,” Pickett said.

One of the largest reasons, she said, is the marked decrease in young families in the area. She cited census data that showed a 5-6 percent decrease in people ages 35 and younger in Stoughton from 2000 to 2010.


Drinking water turned off at River Bluff

Students and staff at River Bluff Middle School may need a bit of extra room on their desks for bottled water in the foreseeable future.

After receiving results of a water test showing elevated levels of lead in the school’s water on Tuesday afternoon, the Stoughton Area School District turned off the school’s water fountains and will provide bottled water to students, staff and guests until further notice.

District communications director Derek Spellman sent an email Tuesday afternoon to River Bluff parents about the water situation. He wrote that earlier this month, the district received a letter from Stoughton Utilities stating that water tests in various parts of the city showed levels of lead above the public health standard of 15 parts per billion. In response, the district had voluntary follow-up water tests done at all facilities, and received the results of those on Tuesday, showing River Bluff was slightly above that level, at 16 parts per billion.


District ‘meets expectations’ in latest state report card

The Stoughton Area School District is meeting expectations, according to the state’s annual “report cards” on public school districts.

According to a release from the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction (DPI), the district received a 71.8 grade, the high cusp of the “meets expectations” category. The district received a 71.9 mark last year.

This is the third year the DPI has issued grades to districts, and the second year the numbers have been released. The overall scores are based on student achievement, student growth, closing gaps and on-track and postsecondary readiness.

Stoughton High School, Fox Prairie Middle School and Sandhill Elementary School received “exceeds expectations” grades, with River Bluff Middle School and Kegonsa Elementary School receiving “meets expectations.”


Board approves additions to critical staffing

Responding to an uptick in student enrollment in two grade levels, the Stoughton Area school board approved adding four positions to its 2014-15 critical staffing plan at its Sept. 8 meeting.

The district has added educational assistants at Fox Prairie and Sandhill elementary schools, a third-grade teacher at Sandhill and a second-grade teacher at Kegonsa. The district usually deals with critical staffing plans in the spring, but an rise in student enrollment in Sandhill’s third grade and Kegonsa’s second grade necessitated the additions, said district communication director Derek Spellman.

The two new teachers will allow the district to remain inside its class size limit set by school board policy. Under that policy, there can be no more than 24 students per class in grades kindergarten through third. Cassie Paulson has been hired as Sandhill’s new third grade teacher, while Kylie Peterson has been hired as the new Kegonsa teacher.


High school ACT scores reach new high

Stoughton High School’s class of 2014 graduates set a new high for average ACT scores for the school in 17 years of data.

According to figures released last week by the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, 2014 graduates averaged a composite score of 23.8 out of a possible 36 points on the college entrance exam, up from the class of 2013 score of 23.4, which was tied for the highest in the time period for which data is available.

To contrast the score increase, however, the district’s participation rate dropped from 66 percent to 64.8, though that is still the second-highest rate among the seven years of data available on WISEdash, DPI’s information portal.

Among 19 non-alternative Dane County high schools, Stoughton had the sixth-highest average, behind Middleton-Cross Plains (25.4), Waunakee (25.3), Oregon (24.7), Verona (24.5) and Madison West (24.1).


Back to School photos

School is back in session in Stoughton. Students started their new routines Tuesday at Sandhill Elementary School.


SASD: 5 things to watch for in 2014-15

Photo submitted. Kegonsa Elementary School teacher James Young works with a student during science class.

Fresh off the momentum of a successful spring referendum that breathed new financial life into the school district, a next looming problem to solve for district officials would seem to be a long-term declining enrollment dilemma.

Still, with a recently climbing graduation rate (97 percent last year) and a growing reputation for facilities like its “Fab Lab” and innovative learning, the district is in position to stake its claim as a “premier” school in the state, as district superintendent Tim Onsager said earlier this summer.

While the recent drop in state aid to schools has seemed to stabilize, a possible political challenge to the state’s recently adopted “Common Core” standards could have some major effects on the district, as well.

Here are some of the stories and trends we’ll be following this year:

Referendum rebound


District adds new leaders

Photos by Scott De Laruelle. New Kegonsa Elementary School principal Don Charpentier is already feeling at home at his new school.

Keeping a building full of energetic, curious young kids entertained and educated all day is quite a chore. But new Stoughton Area School District elementary school principals Krista Huntley Rogers and Don Charpentier wouldn’t have it any other way as they start their new jobs.

Huntley Rogers takes over at Fox Prairie Elementary for long-time principal Mike Jamison, who retired during the summer. Charpentier succeeds Fred Trotter, who has moved to River Falls Middle School to be co-principal with Trish Gates.

Huntley Rogers has some ties to her new school, as she lived in Stoughton briefly when she was younger, and her sister attended Fox Prairie when it was an intermediate school. After some travel around the country and the state, she said she’s glad to be back in the area.

“Stoughton has a great reputation (and) we thought it would be a great district to raise a family in,” Huntley Rogers said.

Huntley Rogers: Career move