So whatever happened to the idea of a Caledonia School District? I served as the President of the Caledonia School District Steering Committee from May 2008 through September of 2009. I will offer you the history and the challenges of creating a new school district as well as accurate information in response to many viewers of the Patch interest.
In December of 2007, approaching the end of my term on the RUSD School Board, I met with former Village of Caledonia Village President Jonathan Delagrave. At his request, we talked about the possibility of Caledonia leaving RUSD and forming its own school district. After reviewing the statutes that pertain to separating a school district from a unified school district, we both concluded that it was possible but concluded it would be an uphill battle. At that time, I decided to not run for a second term, and Jonathan, for career reasons, did not seek a second term as Village President.
Ron Coutts was elected to Village President and I raised the question of whether the Board was willing to evaluate the feasibility of a Caledonia school district. The reception from the new President was receptive. Meanwhile, Kathy Burton, now former Village Trustee started a petition drive to garner support for the village to continue to pursue the idea. She collected 500 signatures in a matter of a couple weeks and presented them to the Village Board. Thanks to her efforts, the board was persuaded to conduct a feasibility study that was conducted by WISTAX (the only known entity that could gather the information needed) at a cost of $30,000.In August, WISTAX released the results in a public meeting at Olympia Brown, which laid out the process and the expenditures and concluded that it was feasable.Charged by Village President Coutts to form a citizen committee, I gathered interested persons for our first meeting in September of 2008. After several months of meetings, a petition drive was started to gather the necessary support under the statute. Through the first effort, more than 4,700 signatures were collected through the efforts of about 10 Caledonia citizens.
After lack of volunteers to continue the effort, the group disbanded in early 2010 with the thought in mind that if the community support, the effort could be started up again.
The separation of school districts works much like a divorce. Caledonia contributes 25% of the local taxes supporting RUSD. Thus, Caledonia would obtain 25% of the assets of the district. The conclusion of the study showed that the new district would keep all the schools within the boundaries of the village, which include Olympia Brown, Caddy Vista, North Park and 25 acres of land on 5 1/2 Mile Rd. and Novak Rd. as well as Gifford Elementary. The study also conclude that Caledonia would also be responsible for 25% of the liabilities. Currently, the liabilities are neutral due to a fund balance of $35 million and very limited outstanding debt.
Under Act 10, the new district would not have to be unionized.At the time of the study, the Caledonia mil rate would be the same as it is today for the first year because of no funding from the state in the first year, and would go progressively go down in each of the next two years.
All of this included the building of a $65 million High School.
THE ROAD BLOCKS
To move forward under current law, 20% of total electorate from the last Gubernatorial election (2010) within the boundaries of the district, must sign a petition by June 1st, of next year. That number is approximately 10,000. This then must be presented to the RUSD school board and they must approve the separation. It then goes to a referendum to the whole district and must be approved by the citizens. The school board would not even enter a dialogue so approval would have gone no further than the petition.
Currently, several citizens are working with legislators to change the process for separation to be more favorable to the district which wants to separate. Those talks are ongoing at this time.Pending the outcome, the Steering Commission can than reconvene to figure out the next steps. As Kathy Burton has said from day one; "It's not a matter of IF it will happen, but WHEN."