DELAVAN

Delavan-Darien High School teachers say a $3.5 million referendum on Tuesday’s ballot would transform two vocational programs at the school.

Jacqueline Jordan, who teaches culinary arts, said the high school doesn’t have an actual culinary program. Currently, Jordan leads a hospitality class with a just a few students, and students are not able to cook meals.

“We have nothing,” Jordan said. “There are so many kids who want to go into culinary. I get requests all the time from local businesses.”

If voters approve the referendum, it would fund a full program with kitchen equipment, stoves and multilevel classes.

If the referendum doesn’t pass, the status quo will remain, Jordan said.

Michael Bell started teaching at the high school Jan. 2, leading the only automotive class, which has about 18 students enrolled. Bell said the year-old department is limited, which ultimately means the local workforce is “limited on the applicants.”

“That’s kind of what pushed us to get this back,” he said. “A large part of the student body would be interested in this.”

If the referendum passes, Bell said the school’s shop will be able to buy more lifts, tools and larger equipment. Currently, it has only one lift and a few hand tools, he said.

“In my class right now, there’s a number of kids that have never opened up the hood before,” he said. “They just had no exposure.”

For years, local officials have said the district doesn’t have enough money to compete with other Walworth County districts. Revenue caps passed by the state Legislature in the early ’90s unfairly lowered the district’s annual state aid, officials say.

Local demographics also have shifted over 20 years. Delavan-Darien currently is a majority minority school district, with Hispanics comprising 51.7 percent of the population. Superintendent Robert Crist said the district has an unusually high percentage of low-income students and students who qualify for free or reduced-price lunches.

As a result, the district is asking taxpayers for more money Tuesday.

The district would use $500,000 of the $3.5 million to supplement vocational programs, such as culinary arts and automotive. That money also would be used to update the track and install artificial turf at Borg Memorial Stadium.

The remaining $3 million would cover recurring operational expenses. Ultimately, the referendum would increase the district’s spending per student to $10,573, about $1,000 more than the 2017-18 school year and slightly above the state average.

School property taxes would increase by $203 on a $100,000 property during the first three years and then the increase would fall to $173 per $100,000 afterward.

If voters reject the referendum, major cuts could ensue districtwide, Crist has said.

Jordan and Bell say they support the referendum because they believe strong vocational programs could lead students to successful jobs after graduation.

“Some kids aren’t meant for the core classes,” Bell said. “They’re meant to be hands-on. This will give them an avenue that they might find of interest to go into the work force.”

Jordan said she has proposed seven classes for the 2018-19 school year, four of which are culinary. Her intentions, she said, are to initiate community partnerships with local businesses and to get students to “start thinking about customer services.”

“I’m very excited for the possibilities it (the referendum) can have,” Jordan said. “But I want voters to be informed. The goal is to create partnerships in Walworth County and Delavan businesses to enhance opportunities for our students.”

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