Looking to better address issues that affect both the city and school district – namely marketing, housing, school enrollment and poverty – leaders for both are forming a joint committee to help explore answers.
Creation of the ad hoc committee was a main topic of the July 20 joint meeting of Stoughton Common Council’s Committee of the Whole and the Stoughton Area school board. It was a follow-up session to an initial meeting between the two groups April 20, with plans for the larger groups to continue to meet quarterly to discuss common issues.
Communication with city officials about working together to improve was a key topic in the April school board election that swept out three incumbents and brought in three political newcomers. That election also brought to the forefront the issues of school financing and the lack of housing growth in the city as main issues to work on collaboratively with the council.
On those big issues, this new committee is expected to do much of the legwork. The group features co-chairs in Jonathon Coughlin from the school board and Kathleen Johnson from the city, as well as school board members Tim Bubon and Joe Freye and city alders Mike Engelberger and Greg Jenson. The committee plans to report back to both bodies within the next 60 days.
“The idea here is for us to share information and collectively try to take that information and put together some sort of an action plan to address the issue,” said Common Council president Tim Swadley, a former SASD board member. “If you guys are in the loop on what we’re doing and were in the loop on what you’re doing, hopefully we can make good decisions.”
At Monday night’s school board meeting, president Scott Dirks said it’s likely representatives of the Stoughton Chamber of Commerce will be invited to participate.
“We don’t want to have such a large committee that you can’t get meeting dates,” he said. “This is going to be six people and they can invite whom they want to invite, and that’s probably much more workable.”
Dirks said he’s “really excited” about the new committee and its tasks – the first two of which will be looking at marketing the area and attracting single-family housing for new, young families.
“This is one of the things I was hoping would come out of setting up these joint meetings between the board and the city council,” he said. “I had some concerns a few months ago maybe there wasn’t that unanimity of direction, but I think we’re all kind of moving in the same direction, which is encouraging.”
“This isn’t just for the school district, this is for the whole community.”
Dirks said he hopes the committee will help raise awareness of needs in the Stoughton community as a whole, and help “spur the city into developing policies and plans to encourage the construction of an affordable range of single-family housing in Stoughton.”
“Right now, such housing is in very short supply,” he said. “The demand is clearly there. Now we just need for more of it to be built.”
Development and marketing
No formal action was taken at the meeting. The group also discussed the city’s comprehensive plan, population growth, school enrollment, development and marketing.
Common Council member Sid Boersma, a Realtor, said the city is “deficient in both new housing and older housing right now.”
“If it’s a decent-priced house, they are now on the market for 4-5 days and they are getting offers,” he said. “We don’t have enough places to sell. Who can move into a community if we don’t have enough housing? And it’s got to be decent housing for young families.”
City planning director Rodney Scheel said while some residential development is coming on line in the Nordic Ridge neighborhood, planned residential development at Kettle Park West has been held up due to issues with connectivity to Hwy. 138.
Despite the high demand for housing in the area, there was also a consensus that Stoughton needs to further increase its visibility and attractiveness to young families. Scheel said the recent Parade of Homes was encouraging, drawing 3,600 visitors.
“It’s certainly brought new eyes to the community that (haven’t) been there before,” he said.
Stoughton Area School District superintendent Tim Onsager said there has been some talk “on and off” the past few years on cooperative marketing efforts, but “nothing has come to fruition.”
“We need a concerted effort amongst the different entities – the school district, city, chamber – to market what we have to offer,” he said. “We’re in a great place. You come to Stoughton and it’s a small-town feel with big-city amenities close by.”
Onsager took aim at Stoughton’s neighbors, which have been drawing prospective families – and students – away from the district.
“We have to do a better job and work together and sell the differences we have, say, with Oregon,” he said, noting that Stoughton has advantages of its own hospital, two grocery stores and plenty of restaurants to choose from. “We need a concerted effort to work together. The district would be interested in combining financial resources to “bring someone in to shape that marketing plan.”
Johnson, a Realtor, said Stoughton needs to emphasize the quality of their schools; or at the least, combat possibly inaccurate perceptions about them.
“I’m concerned that Stoughton doesn’t have the best reputation for schools, and I think we need to emphasize the qualities we do have, because when you have young families, they look at the quality of the schools,” she said. “I lost a few neighbors because they didn’t want to send their kids to Kegonsa (Elementary School), they wanted to be in another area.”
Dirks said Stoughton simply needs to do a better job at letting people outside the city or school district know about the good things going on here.
“Stoughton’s a great community for a lot of different reasons,” he said. “I don’t think we’re doing a very good job communicating to the outside world just what it is.”