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School referendum gets resounding no PDF Print E-mail
Written by STEVEā€ˆOSTERMANN   
Wednesday, 06 April 2016 18:36

Voters turn thumbs down on $49.5 million spending plan by rejecting both questions on upgrading facilities

Grafton School District voters turned thumbs down on a $49.5 million referendum in Tuesday’s election, rejecting a pair of spending proposals to upgrade facilities by resounding margins.

By a 4,054 to 3,260 margin, voters said no to a question asking if the district should borrow $47.7 million for renovation and reconstruction work at Grafton High School, John Long Middle School and Kennedy, Woodview and Grafton elementary schools.

Failing by a 3,763 to 3,495 margin was a second question asking if the district should borrow $1.8 million to upgrade outdoor physical education, athletic and recreation areas.

By rejecting both questions, voters snubbed spending plans that would have required a tax-rate increase of $1.49 per $1,000 of equalized valuation, with the upgrades paid for through borrowing in a 24-year bond plan. That increase would have included $1.43 per $1,000 to support the $47.7 million to upgrade buildings and six cents per $1,000 for outdoor upgrades.

For the owner of a $250,000 house, the $49.5 million plan would have meant an annual increase of $372.50 in school taxes.

Supt. Mel Lightner said Tuesday provided a clear message from voters. 

“The community is always right,” he said. “We put our information out there, and they said this was not what they wanted. It was the ultimate listening session.

“There are definite needs in the district, and we will have to look at other options, but it’s clear that this plan is going to be scrapped.”

In preparation for the election, the district conducted an information outreach effort that included referendum details in newsletters, fliers and on its website as well as at a community symposium. A vote-yes group launched a campaign in support of the referendum.

Advocates contended the upgrades are sorely needed in a district where deteriorating conditions include broken pipes, crumbling walls, flooding, cramped classrooms and storage areas, damaged parking lots and athletic fields and outdated and failing electrical, heating and plumbing systems.

In early March, critics of the referendum began publicly stating their case. Members of a vote-no group argued the spending plan was excessive, that residents are still paying off the debt from a 2000 school referendum and that district officials could have opted for less costly maintenance options.

Critics contended that district officials didn’t accurately explain the financial impact of the referendum, which they said would cost nearly $94 million over 24 years when interest and lost state aid were added to the $49.5 million figure.

Before the election, Lightner and other district officials noted that the referendum questions were approved by the School Board after it received extensive input, most notably from the Citizens Facilities Committee. The 40-member group included school, village and town officials and other residents who reviewed a consulting firm’s assessment of facilities, toured buildings and grounds and developed upgrade options.

When they decided in January to hold a spring referendum, School Board members cited the results of a community survey. About 75% of respondents supported holding a referendum, and 64% said they were likely to support a $49.5 million referendum.

Lightner described the spending plan as a “long-term solution” that would have provided much-needed improvements, enhance the quality of education and help attract more families to the district.

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