My wife, Andrea, have rented an apartment since we moved to Stoughton in the summer of 2014, a year before we married. But now, we are preparing to close on a home in Janesville.

Andrea works in Janesville, and I work around Madison. While Stoughton was originally a convenient compromise for our travel times, we fell in love with this community – its kindness, its size, and its promise. And in 2017, I ran for a contested seat on the SASD Board of Education because we wanted to make Stoughton our home.

Our first child, Charles, was born later that year, and we have been house hunting ever since. When our landlord notified us in September 2019 that our building was being converted to condos for sale, our pace of relocation suddenly transitioned from relaxed to imperative.

Though we budgeted $225,000, Stoughton did not have a house for our family. This is a problem the city needs to address – and soon – if city leaders want to maintain the opportunity Stoughton schools provide your children.

The Stoughton housing inventory at our price range is so low that we could go weeks without a new property popping into our MLS feed. And with Andrea seven months pregnant and both of us working full time, we needed a move-in-ready house with three bedrooms and space for a home office.

In two years of touring properties in Stoughton, we visited one move-in ready home in our price range. After we moved our search to Janesville in December, we placed an offer on the first house we toured – a perfect fit for our young, growing family.

I spent my last year on the school board as its treasurer watching our budget shrink according to our enrollment, and I spent my two years prior co-chairing the joint committee of the council and SASD that was tasked with attracting and retaining young families.

In my two years as co-chair, I asserted as calmly but sternly as I could that Stoughton had nowhere for families like mine to live. And now, still as one of the youngest elected representatives in all of Stoughton government, I feel I am in the unique position to definitively report that the Stoughton Common Council has ignored its housing problem long enough to declare it an emergency.

At its current rate of enrollment attrition, SASD will soon require major cuts to programming to balance its budget; if the attrition continues for five more years, the district might have to consider consolidating schools.

For years, the Common Council and the Redevelopment Authority have opposed development of apartments like the building in which my family has rented since we arrived in 2014.

Apartment complexes are a vital component of bringing young families to Stoughton. In the past year alone, we are the fourth young family to leave Stoughton from our building, and our building only rents 10 units. Without our apartment complex, none of these families would have made it to Stoughton in the first place, and now, with its transition to condos, there are no similar units for families interested in staying.

Stoughton is mired in a debate about using taxpayer funding for a housing development, and the question has been posed whether that single development can bring enough families to solve the SASD enrollment decline.

It cannot, of course. No single housing development will solve your enrollment problem.

Stoughton instead needs to mount an aggressive, ambitious campaign to recruit developers who will build housing that a young family can rent or own for less than $1,500 per month (the most you can expect a young family to pay for housing in Stoughton).

I do not care how you spend your tax-increment financing money; you need to care less about singular TIF projects and more about the threat of your school district collapsing.

To borrow a quote from Dr. Onsager, your SASD superintendent, “The school district is the canary in the coal mine of a community.”

If your school district collapses by attrition, so will your community.

In Stoughton, there is no question of whether you need to build apartments or single-family homes. You need to build both of them and more.

Stoughton has great schools full of award-winning educators and devoted support staff. Your district, this year, received the status of “Exceeds Expectations” from the Wisconsin DPI, a rare and coveted standing.

Stoughton schools are a recruitment tool for prospective home buyers, and I would have been overjoyed to send my children to any of your schools. I wish we could have.

Andrea and I will miss our friends here and the culture of your town. We wish you all the best and I thank you for the privilege of serving on your Board of Education. Stoughton helped shape our family, and I am proud of my family, and that is the highest compliment I can give this community.

Jon Coughlin is a member of the Stoughton Area School District Board of Education.