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Will Parkview voters approve construction?

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Gina Duwe
March 21, 2014

ORFORDVILLE--Community members promoting Parkview's two referendums are optimistic this could be the time voters approve facility upgrades that could help keep  students in the district.

Voters have turned down four of the last five referendums, but supporters said this proposal is different.

“This one is by far the most positive in terms of support,” said John Abrahamson, a Parkview graduate who worked as a teacher and administrator for 34 years in the district, retiring five years ago.

He's been involved in several referendums over the years and said the biggest difference is the community was involved in drafting a well-thought-out plan.

“It was a lot of community people … who said we recognize there are needs in the district, but we didn't really agree with (the last referendum),” he said. “The community felt like we can maybe have a better plan.”

In 2012, voters turned down by a 3-1 margin a $5 million construction referendum to consolidate the elementary schools. The same day, voters elected three new board members who ran together on plans to close Newark Elementary the next year and eventually Footville Elementary. Newark was closed when school ended in June 2012.

A long-range planning committee spent more than a year gathering input from the community and mulling options before deciding on a $17 million proposal to swap the schools in Orfordville, fund additions and renovations and close the Footville school.

A second referendum question seeks $350,000 each year for the next three school years for operating expenses.

About 50 volunteers have been working to educate voters and push for the referendums through a “Making Good Great” campaign. The group is calling area residents, putting up yard signs, using social media, presenting at local meetings and churches and trying to get voters to the polls, including college students, said Co-Chairwoman Angela Sullivan.

“I feel like we've done a good job to inform the community,” she said.

Tax impact

Russell Tinder of the town of Plymouth attended a district information session and said the process is the “same song and dance” from 2002, when the district proposed building a new high school with an auditorium.

He opposes the referendums and said he hasn't talked to one person who thinks the construction is a good idea. 

People on his “side of the fence,” he said, “feel like they're (supporters) overstating the negatives, and the school is not as bad off as they are claiming it to be.”

He thinks a viable option is merging the Parkview and Brodhead school districts because both face declining enrollments. 

“They're asking for a huge amount of money,” he said.

His school taxes would go up about 37 percent—more than $1,000 annually—if both referendums pass, he said.

“That's way too much,” he said.

If both referendums are approved, the tax impact on a $100,000 property would be an additional $360 for each of the first three years and $270 annually in years four through 20.

The district's current tax rate of $10.03 sits in the bottom third among comparable area districts, according to a district analysis.

But Tinder said it's getting “very expensive” to live around here, and approved referendums will make it difficult to sell a home in the district. Instead of a building referendum, he said, the district should do whatever maintenance is necessary and  look seriously at consolidation with other schools.

The high school was built in 1964 and the junior high in 1970, and officials say the facilities are inadequate and hurting enrollment. Required repairs and upgrades needed at the Footville school total nearly $1.1 million if it was to remain open.

Sullivan said she understands some people can't afford the increase, but she thinks some can “look deep inside” and say they can make the sacrifice for the betterment of the community and kids.

“We just want people to be informed and want them to make the decision that's best for themselves,” she said.

Abrahamson said the district didn't put the plan out lightly. A new school would cost $28 million, he said. He also made the point that somebody paid for his education.

“If we don't support our school, where are we going to go? Are we going to send the message that maybe we're going to close the doors and just let our kids go be absorbed by the surrounding districts?” he said.

A “Vote NO on The Parkview Referendum” page on Facebook has 13 “likes,” and a Gazette message to the page administrator was not returned.

Community

While demographics likely play a big role in the district's referendum history, Abrahamson also cited the district's three distinct communities—Orfordville, Footville and Newark.

“Sometimes, your community didn't stand to gain much or they might have been losing something,” he said of past referendums. “There was always a great deal of distrust in terms of what's going to happen in 10 years or five years to my school, so a lot of times, you couldn't get anything unified.”

Supporters say the proposal will finally unify the district with a centralized campus in Orfordville.

“There's no way the district can stay going the way it is,” Sullivan said.

She's worried about what could happen if the referendums fail.

“If it fails…” Abrahamson said, pausing. “In the past, I'd have a sense, OK, here's what we got to do next. But here, if this fails, I don't know what the next step is.”

Returning to voters with a similar referendum in November would seem the best choice, he said.

“This isn't an extravagant plan. You can't say cut the swimming pool out or auditorium out,” he said.



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