Delavan-Darien school board discusses referendum to exceed state revenue caps

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Catherine W. Idzerda
Wednesday, December 18, 2013

DELAVAN--State-imposed revenue caps and the changing demographics of the district might push the Delavan-Darien School Board to ask the public for more money.

At a meeting Wednesday night, the school board discussed the possibility of going to referendum in April to exceed state revenue caps.

The state imposed the revenue caps on school districts in 1993 to help hold down local property taxes. Districts that had budgeted carefully, however, found themselves facing financial challenges.

“A lot of shortages in the districts who were conservative started in 1993,” said district Superintendent Robert Crist.

Delavan-Darien has the second lowest per-pupil cost of the 14 school districts in Walworth County. Delavan-Darien's cost is second lowest at $9,083. Genoa City's cost per pupil is $8,988. Linn Joint School District 4 is highest at $14,011, and the average is $9,838.

Board member Chad Kort asked the question that the public will ask: “Why now?”

Crist said that in the past 20 years, the demographics of the district have changed. The district is home to more English language learners and more low-income students. More resources are needed to help those children achieve.

“In order to make the decision to go to referendum, we have to get all of our questions answered,” said school board President Jeff Scherer.

The board will meet again Jan. 2 for a “workshop” on the referendum issue. The public will be allowed to speak at that meeting.

Surprisingly, some members of the public already have suggested a referendum.

Last year, the district held a series of meetings to consider how four of its five buildings were used. Those discussions restarted this fall.

Options included moving all fifth-grade classrooms to Phoenix Middle School. Wileman Elementary would then be used as an early learning center for Headstart, early childhood programs and 4-year-old kindergartens, and which grades would be included at Turtle Creek and Darien elementary schools would be reconfigured.

During those meetings, some parents raised objections to the changes, citing everything from the length of bus rides to keeping fifth-graders away from their older peers.

Some parents suggest the best idea might be to build a new school.

If the board does decide to pursue a referendum, it would have to make a decision in early January. By state law, the referendum must be ready for the ballot at least 70 days before the election.

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