MILTON, Wis. - School board members and district administrators were back to the drawing board Wednesday after the $69.9 million referendum that would have addressed overcrowding issues in the district failed.
According to the Rock County Clerk, 55 percent of voters said no and 45 percent voted to approve the referendum. In total, about 6,000 people voted, which is nearly 50 percent of registered voters.
“As much as we’re disappointed, I’m not disappointed in the voter turnout,” Superintendent Tim Schigur said. “That’s fabulous that there’s that many people that care about coming out and having a say.”
The money from the referendum would have been used to build a new high school, convert the current high school into a middle school, turn the current middle school into a second intermediate school and add space onto East Elementary. Grade levels also would have been reconfigured to alleviate overcrowding throughout the district. According to the district, the estimated tax impact would have been $12.17 per month for a $100,000 home.
“The community has obviously said, ‘We don’t want to do it all at once. Let’s do something else,’ and the order of addressing the needs will be determined by the (school) board,” Schigur said.
This is the second time the district has attempted a referendum. In 2016, voters rejected an $87 million referendum by less than 300 votes.
School district officials cut the cost of the 2016 referendum by downsizing the high school, using cheaper building materials and using funds from the $2.5 million operational referendum, which did pass, to update safety and security measures.
“We still have to go to referendum at some point because we do have needs, and we do have to address those needs,” said Brian Kvapil, a school board member.
Kvapil had been an outspoken opponent of the first referendum. He said he was surprised that the 55-45 voting margin this year was wider than the 51-49 margin last year.
“There are very passionate community members on both sides,” he said.
With the failure of two referendums, Kvapil said it’s time to really listen to what the community has to say.
“I think we have a lot of options on the table right now,” he said. “There’s a lot of ideas that community members have brought forward that I think need to be looked at in a serious manner.”
The school board will decide what to do going forward. Kvapil said nothing has been discussed yet, but some possibilities include going to referendum a third time or expanding the high school, instead of building a new one.
“I think the important thing, though, is really taking a look at those needs and prioritize because what’s a need to some people may not be a need to another,” he said. “We have some really hard-working people who are willing to improve their community, but at the same time, they have to live as well. So there has to be a balance there, and right now, I don’t know if we’ve, based on the poll results, we haven’t hit that balance yet.
Kvapil said the results of the vote also show there is distrust in the community.
“I think the way the polls came out and the election came out, that to me is a real indicator of how much trust and faith they have to the board and district administration’s decision making process,” he said. “So we have a lot of work to do to get that trust back.”
Schigur said until a solution is found, classes will continue to be held in spaces not designed to be classrooms, like basements and former locker rooms.
“They’ll continue to do wonderful things with the kids like they do every day,” Schigur said about the teachers. “We feel good about what we do every day and that doesn’t change whether a referendum passes or doesn’t.”
The school board has a meeting scheduled at 6:30 p.m. Monday at the district office. Kvapil said encourages anyone who has a question or suggestion to attend.
“The more community input we get, the faster we can address the needs and get a solution that the community can take and live with and have that balance,” he said.
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