School board reviews failed referendum
Plans to discuss elementary school’s essential needs
By Erik Buchinger
The Clintonville School Board discussed a second referendum on an elementary school at its meeting Monday, April 24.
The topic stemmed from an agenda item regarding the Rexford-Longfellow facility after the failed April 4 referendum to build a new school
The board discussed what could be done with the most essential needs of the elementary school.
When asked about the financial aspect, Clintonville School District Business Manager Lynette Edwards said she is not ready to give up on the referendum.
“People I talk to tell me they’re sorry the referendum failed, then I say thank you and the follow up comment is such and such district took three tries, and that’s OK,” Edwards said. “I guess in my mind, I’m just not ready to just completely turn the bus around and start heading backwards.”
Edwards said she met with staff in the elementary school to discuss the failed referendum.
“We discussed what happened with the vote, and I assured them that as far as I am concerned, I’m not giving up on this,” Edwards said. “I thought the process we worked with was great, I really do. We’ve got a lot of work to do, but I don’t think we just throw out the work that we’ve already done, which was to bring the community together and start discussing a referendum, a new build, a remodel.”
Edwards said she is hesitant to spend a significant amount of money on the current elementary school facility when another referendum could come in the future.
“I pause at the idea that we’re just going to start piecemealing that building year by year and then go back and talk about referendum because we’ve pretty much sealed the deal that we’re not going to build a new school, and we’ve married ourselves to keeping that facility,” Edwards said.
School Board President Ben Huber said the district should refrain from making big decisions on the elementary school prior to another referendum.
“I think we will have to have a referendum question to answer that at some point because we are not going to be able to fund the entire renovation through simply fund balance,” Huber said. “We are going to need a referendum approval, and we shouldn’t be making major decisions before the referendum would go through.”
Edwards said she has spoken with people from other schools and said a follow-up survey is sent out to the community following a failed referendum asking why the public voted the way it did.
“We could ask a lot of the details and questions that weren’t on the original survey as we moved to a referendum,” Edwards said.
School Board Clerk Jim Dins said he would like the board to be unanimous in its decision to go through with a referendum, which was not the case leading up to the April 4 vote.
“I just don’t think we can have another referendum unless we have a unified board,” Dins said. “It’s got to be unanimous, don’t you think? I’m not trying to pick on anyone here, but I think we have to be all together on this. I would never vote to do another referendum unless everybody said they’re onboard.”
Board member Jim Schultz asked Edwards when the surveys would be sent out.
“A lot of this is fresh in people’s minds with the discussion leading up to it, the vote and the discussion afterward,” Edwards said. “If we wait six months, I think people are going to forget what was all going on at the time and some of the comments that were made. I don’t think it can be too soon.”
Edwards said they could have spent more time discussing the referendum prior to the vote.
“We tried and went to a lot of public meetings to get the facts out there, but maybe people need a little bit more time to talk with their neighbor or with people at the coffee shop or whatever and sort of digest it,” Edwards said.
Edwards said she heard comments that the administration and school board were too involved with the process, which she refuted.
“If I had been any less involved, I would’ve been waiting in my office waiting for the [Elementary Facilities Task Force] come in and say this is the plan that we want on the ballot,” Edwards said. “We literally sat in the back of the room and watched things unfold. We did not vote to narrow down the options. The only thing we were doing there was providing facts about the district from a financial position, so I was a little confused by that. I understand that can be the perception in the public, but for anyone who was actually involved in the process, I’m confused by that idea that we were too involved.”
Edwards said another referendum could be about one year away or more.
“There is no general election in the fall, so if the school district wanted to do a referendum this fall, we would be putting up a pretty hefty bill, so that’s not likely,” Edwards said. “We’re looking to at least a year out if not a year and a half. From what I understand from talking with other school districts, that’s not too long to plan and prepare and keep the discussion going. I think it’s really important that we keep the discussion going about the elementary school.”
Huber said the referendum process has informed the public enough that most people realize how big of a need there is for an upgrade at the current elementary school.
“I think one thing that almost everyone in the community does at least now understand there is a need for elementary school,” Huber said. “Whether that’s a new facility or this facility to be fixed, there is definitely a large percentage of the population who says we’ve got to get it done, so that is one good step.”