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Referendum could hinge on district communication

Aug. 14, 2008

St. Francis School Board members listened intently as residents voiced their opinions about what it will take for the community to pass a referendum to improve district schools.

Residents suggested the district send mailings to everyone in the community and provide more details about facility needs. Their comments on the process and how it can be enhanced came during an Aug. 11 work session.

The School Board is considering referendum options with price tags of $15.7 million, $18.7 million and $33.9 million.

Problems get worse

Improvements are needed at all three facilities because the buildings have reached the end of their lifecycle, said Bruce Connolly, director of The Center for Education Innovation and Regional Economic Development. Connolly also is a senior consultant for School Perceptions and a former school superintendent.

"As the facilities age, the problems get bigger and bigger," he said.

Each year, the needs tend to get brushed aside due to a lack of funding while costs to satisfy those needs increase. He said if a referendum had been passed four years ago, it would have cost about 30 percent less than what it does today because prices for materials and labor have increased.

Despite several issues that need to be addressed in the district's three schools, survey results show that voters would not support a referendum of $33 million or more. About half of respondents said they would be willing to support a $15 million referendum.

"Money is an issue," Connolly said. "Respondents said, 'Make sure you use taxpayers' dollars well.' "

The Facility Study Committee prioritized the needs in each school so that taxes could be spent more efficiently, he said.

New lighting, exterior doors, windows and classroom technology have been set as high priorities for each school building, as have electrical upgrades, a more secure office entrance and ADA compliance.

Many of the recommended improvements would make the buildings more energy efficient and cost effective.

Brian Warwick, a Facility Study Committee member, said the district needs more than $33 million to mend all its building problems, but survey results show there is not enough support in the community for such a referendum.

"It would be nice to get the $33 million, but we can't," he said.

Residents voice concerns

Sheryl Stawski, a Facility Study Committee member and parent, said the district needs to give the public more notice about meetings and school tours. She also suggested that school officials present the life expectancy of supplies and needed materials to the public to illustrate the need.

Stawski also urged the board members to draft a resolution seeking sufficient funds to avoid the need for another referendum in the near future.

"I hope we plan for enough," she said.

But Skip Buechel urged the board to "please spend our money wisely."

Jim Czerwinski, a resident, said school officials should reveal the specifics of what would be done with $15 million to gain more support for the referendum.

"What are we doing with this $15 million?" he asked.

If school officials are passionate about passing a referendum, they should show residents pictures of the needed repairs along with more detailed explanations of the solutions, he said.

After some discussion, the work session drew to a close.

No action was taken during the meeting.

School Board President Jacqueline Hemmer said the next step is for the board to agree on a dollar amount to attach to the referendum. That decision is likely to happen Monday, Aug. 18.

A resolution specifying the language for the referendum questions likely would be adopted Monday, Sept. 8, and the referendum would be held on Election Day in November.

Chantel Balzell can be reached at (262) 446-6602.

NEXT STEP

WHO: St. Francis School Board

WHAT: discussion and possible action on dollar amount of November referendum

WHEN: 6:30 p.m. Monday, Aug. 18

WHERE: St. Francis High School library, 4225 S. Lake Drive

CONTACT: the district office, (414) 747-3900

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