Evansville School Board weighs when to seek referendum

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Gina Duwe
Thursday, May 1, 2014

EVANSVILLE--Evansville school administrations narrowed a project list for a referendum from $8.46 million down to $4.57 million as the board discusses how and when to go to the polls.

Superintendent Jerry Roth and Business Manager Doreen Treuden presented the school board Wednesday night with a proposal of how the money would be spent and a list of pros and cons for referendum dates and types of questions.

The board unanimously approved moving ahead with planning for a referendum, though many decisions remain including when, how much and how many questions.

Factors to increase support for a referendum include educating the community about each question, defining the scope of each question and reducing the overall cost/tax impact, Roth said.

Board President Kathi Swanson asked administrators at a previous meeting to prioritize the needs, and Roth said they reduced the list to $4.57 million to be spent over four years. The district conducted a community survey early this year, and the proposals in the survey totaled $8.46 million.

“I think that in itself—almost cutting it in half—will give us a stronger chance of passing the facilities piece,” he said.

The figures break down as follows:

--Capital projects (roofing, windows, doors, floors): $2.01 million

--Security (secure front office entrances, cameras, electronic entrances): $302,000

--Technology (upgraded wired, wireless and server infrastructure, projectors and computer/tablet devices): $1.35 million

--Curriculum (multiple subjects throughout all grade levels): $900,000

How the board structures a referendum will determine the tax impact on residents over the possible four-year referendum. Treuden presented options including having the biggest tax impact in the first year—a $270 increase on a $100,000 home—with the increase dropping in following years.

Board members and administrators discussed the pros and cons of going to voters in a special September election that the district would have to pay for or asking at the general elections in November or April 2015.

One board member’s first question was when Blackhawk Technical College was going to referendum. Treuden said all she knew was BTC would have a referendum on the November ballot.

The BTC board discussed a fall referendum at its April meeting, but no action has been taken yet.

Board member John Rasmussen said he wanted a November referendum because of the anticipated large voter turnout. Board member Amanda Koenecke said she thought April would be too late to start working on the needed projects.

Swanson said she thought September was too soon and was more inclined to November.

The citizens advisory committee in March recommended the board either ask no more than three questions in September or ask one question at the November election.

Board member Tina Rossmiller said educating residents about one question would be easier because multiple questions would get complex. Treuden agreed multiple questions are confusing.

“I get the one question,” Koenecke said. “My worry is, if it does not pass, what are we going to do? … Some of our textbooks are from the ’80s and ’90s. We have to find the money. We have leaky roofs. … Are we going to be able to find a solution?”

Rossmiller said they would have to troubleshoot, and they run the same risk if two questions or four questions all failed.

Swanson wondered whether the proposed project list would get the district to where it needs to be or if it would get the district ahead.

Roth said the wireless technology would bring the district slightly ahead, but the curriculum spending has been cut so much in the past several years that it will “get us in a very strong direction.” But, he said, other curriculum areas will need addressing down the road.

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