In wake of failed Grafton referendum, broad-based ad hoc committee to study district facilities
Grafton’s School Board is seeking to expand its ad hoc committee on facilities to district staff and the community to help determine the next steps after a failed spring referendum.
The board on Monday approved expanding the committee, hoping to draw people with financial and construction expertise.
Ad Hoc Committee chairman and School Board Treasurer Paul Lorge said he would like to see a 10 to 15-member committee. Anything over 20 is too many to accomplish anything, he said.
Lorge said he already knows six people interested in joining the committee.
The move comes after voters in April rejected borrowing $47.7 million for renovation and reconstruction work at Grafton High School, John Long Middle School and Kennedy, Woodview and Grafton elementary schools. The vote was 4,054 to 3,260, despite a community survey showing support for the plan.
Voters also said no to borrowing $1.8 million to upgrade outdoor physical education, athletic and recreation areas by a 3,763 to 3,495 margin.
From five listening sessions after the failed referendum, Lorge reported that “something needs to be done.”
Lorge ran down a list of themes from the sessions: referendum cost was too high; need better communication plans; more research needs to be done; explain impact on property values and community; explain how state aid works; explain why taxes in Grafton are higher than other area districts; is the district using Act 10; trust is a problem; present multiple options; explain the nature and extent of the 2000 referendum; and engage other community leaders.
Expansion of the committee was one of three recommendations the ad hoc committee brought to the School Board. It asked to plan on an April 2017 referendum since this November doesn’t allow enough time to be ready. The committee also asked to have a standing agenda item at each board meeting.
Board President Terry Ziegler said adding the agenda item isn’t a problem. Holding another referendum as the only way to address facility issues garnered some debate, but the board agreed April is the next logical time.
Ziegler said people urgent to upgrade the district’s facilities say November is too fast.
Board member Clayton Riddle said putting the April referendum date in the motion limits the district.
“If you already decide on April, why not go in November?” he said.
The motion was amended to rule out a November referendum and to prepare for an “anticipated referendum date of April 2017.” It passed unanimously.
Determining the ad hoc committee’s task garnered some discussion. Lorge said the committee should prepare for a referendum.
“We have to go to referendum,” he said.
Riddle said if that’s the perception, certain people won’t participate.
“If we exclude that portion of the electorate again ... that’s a significant portion of the community. That’s what we ran into with the last one,” he said.
Ziegler said if the committee develops a facilities plan without specifically targeting a referendum, it would be a “bait and switch” since the district is planning to do another referendum.
Lorge said the committee should develop a plan and options for facility needs from the 10-year maintenance plan that includes $7.3 million of work.
“Are they really needs? How will they be addressed?” he said.
While a referendum is one option, “it’s not the only one. You’re right, Clayton,” he said.
Newly hired Supt. Jeff Nelson at his first board meeting said needs versus wants is a key component.
“It is that need piece. Not everybody thought the district was going forward with needs. There were some wants,” he said.
Riddle said the committee should develop a funding mechanism for the facility plan. He divided items into “absolute needs” and “lower priority needs,” saying he disagrees that anything should be called “wants.”
In addition, the board discussed developing a building and grounds standing committee of five or six members specializing in the building industry. It would maintain and adjust the 10-year maintenance plan and work with the Business Services Office to ensure a funding mechanism is in place.
Ziegler said standing committees can be discussed later with Nelson.
Saving money for facilities via the newly created Fund 46, a new state law allowing districts to transfer budget surplus money without impacting state aid or tax levy, was mentioned.
The state restricts removing money from Fund 46 until five years after the fund is created. West Bend expects to save enough money over 10 years to be able to build a school.
The district will be sending an email to families seeking ad hoc committee members, contacting the Grafton Chamber of Commerce and putting a notice on its website. Lorge said he expects the committee will meet weekly and members should not miss more than one meeting.
For more information on joining the committee, contact Nelson at 376-5549.