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In the Wake of Referendum Defeat, Racine Unified Board Ponders, What’s Next?

Board members seek deeper discussion with the public about what losing the referendum means to the school district.

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.

Chris Larsen April 06, 2011 at 07:18 PM
How can you not see? What sealed the the fate of these three if a few things. First off, #1 was too expensive during the most depressed economic times since the 1920's. Second is that you might have had #3, or even 2&3 approved if you had not put the administration before the kids and spent over 10 million on a the new central office, plus taken a huge loss on the old property in a real estate shell game that makes John Dickert look honest. When even the teachers privately do not support this, you are in trouble. Take a good hard look in the mirror, and face the fact that you can snowball the taxpayers anymore. Your black check is about to be overdrawn. You know where there is fat to cut, and it's not with the teachers or the kids right now. Be honest with yourselves and us.
Brian Dey April 06, 2011 at 09:50 PM
Hey Van Atta, bring it back again ad the results will be worse unless you address the issues the public has brought before you. Cut the overhead; don't dare sell the property on Northwestern without getting an appraisal; and talk to the people of Caledonia about their own district. Oh yea, and redistrict (after 15 years and a Supreme Court decision, it's overdue), and go back to neighborhood schools, junior high configuration, and teach our children.
Tuco April 07, 2011 at 12:42 PM
The RUSD would better serve us if they operated out of Guam. They are in the mix and cannot see what needs to be done. At least in Guam (still can't see) they'll get a nice tan. The public does not wear rose colored glasses. We can see through the BS. RUSD is a failure! The students are noting but pawns in a Ponzi scheme with the teachers, unions and management. IF THE RESULTS of education were to improve, across the board, and the results were documented and marketed, maybe, just maybe some more money would be forth coming. The backroom deal on quickly ratifying the latest contract was one of the reasons I voted NO NO NO. The teachers field trip to Madison was another. Will they be disciplined for letting the schools close? I seriously doubt it! The current school board should resign out of shame for their incompetence.
wisconsincitizen April 07, 2011 at 04:44 PM
It is a complete disconnect to vote no on the referendum questions yet put the very people who approved it back on the school board. We need a clean sweep. Put the money into the curriculum, make teachers, administration, and the school board accountable.

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