The fate of the three Racine Unified School District referendum questions was sealed as the first votes were tallied Tuesday evening when the wards in the city and the Village of Sturtevant indicated a solid “no.” As the final votes were tallied about three hours later, more than 60 percent of RUSD voters gave a thumbs down to the referendum.
The defeat means that RUSD officials must plug a $7.5 million hole in the upcoming 2011-12 budget, deal with a lengthy backlog of building repairs and continue to support an ambitious plan to improve overall student achievement by 2016.
District voters turned down an $83.5 million bond issue to construct five new school and remodel five other buildings; a seven-year, $35 million spending increase to pay for additional teachers, support smaller class sizes and continue some existing programs, and to add $1 million annually for 10 years to the district’s reserve fund.
“We have challenges most definitely. We have to be very candid with the public. We’ll have to do the best with what we have,” said Pastor Melvin Hargrove, one of the three incumbents re-elected to the School Board on Tuesday.
William Van Atta, School Board president, suggested that the referendum questions might be retooled and brought back to voters in a year.
“I believe we’re looking at having a longer-term discussion with the community,” he said, noting that any ballot decision would be made by the entire School Board.
Pamala Handrow, another incumbent returned to the School Board, said the board’s big challenge will be “to find the dollars that we need.”
Handrow, Hargrove and Van Atta were among the majority of School Board members supporting the three referendum questions. Dennis Wiser, another incumbent also re-elected Tuesday, opposed the bond issue and operating expenses questions.
“The board has to take a good, long look at itself,” Wiser said on Wednesday. “For the past year, nothing we’ve done has gotten results or public support.”
He suggested that it might be more acceptable to voters if building improvements were “packaged in little chunks” by addressing some of the most serious issues like the deterioration of the Olympia Brown and Walden III buildings.
A five-year, $16.5 million facilities maintenance referendum expires in 2013.