|East Troy voters to consider retooled school referendum|
|East Troy voters to consider retooled school referendum|
|Written by Todd MIshler/Walworth County Sunday|
|Friday, 15 March 2013 13:52|
EAST TROY — In November, supporters adjusted their helmets, dug in their cleats and took a mighty swing — and missed.
The East Troy Community School District’s $17.2 million building and facility upgrade referendum failed by a 53 percent to 47 percent margin, sending district administrators, school board members and the rest of their team back to the dugout, scratching their heads as to how they didn’t hit that one out of the park.
However, these officials spent the next two months poring over statistics and executing what they hope was a better game plan. Voters will decide April 2 whether or not it’s a hit this time.
The revised referendum, at a proposed price tag of $19 million, focuses on updates to the high school included in the original proposal, security upgrades throughout the district, construction of a bus drop-off loop at Prairie View Elementary School to alleviate traffic congestion and maintenance to keep Leona Doubek Elementary School operational.
Everything from the first attempt remained, except for $500,000 in athletic capital improvements, as phase one of the district’s $41 million long-range plan that a 28-member ad-hoc Facilities Advisory Committee developed last summer.
The most expensive piece, and likely the most controversial, is a $9.5 million auditorium.
School board members Brian Wexler and Dawn Buchholtz, who are running for re-election April 2 against Charles Harwood and Ted Zess, said the effort failed because supporters didn’t do a good enough job of educating the public, and they are confident that this trip to the batter’s box will produce a favorable outcome.
“I was part of the ad-hoc committee, and we did a ton of research and looked at a lot of options in figuring out how to best address our district’s needs,” said Wexler, who’s been president for eight of his 12 years on the board. “We knew that we couldn’t tackle the long-range plan all at once, so we had to decide how to split it up in moving forward. One thing we did was to add $1.35 million to address severe needs at Doubek.
“But after the November decision, the five of us on the board agreed that we had not done a good enough job in advertising and grass-roots marketing,” Wexler said. “We heard from a lot of people who hadn’t even heard about the referendum or that an auditorium was part of the plan. So we needed to intensify our efforts and take a more comprehensive approach. We needed to have a more efficient, effective way.”
Buchholtz agreed that better communication was necessary in reaching out to more people, who would see an estimated debt service tax levy increase of $30 on a $150,000 home with the new proposal.
“And there was a certain amount of complacency … we haven’t had a referendum since 1997 (to build Prairie View) and people figured the schools have been functioning pretty well,” Buchholtz said. “But this is a whole different environment and market with open enrollment.”
So, organizers created a campaign that featured fliers and a website (www.yesforeasttroy.org). And they’ve taken to social media arenas to answer questions, as well as concerns.
Two key supporters on that front have been the husband-wife duo of Tim and Sue Griffin, who have spearheaded the Yes For East Troy group’s activities.
“A bunch of concerned citizens got this thing going last fall after the first referendum went down,” Sue Griffin said. “We strongly believe in the school district and what the board is trying to accomplish, so we decided to pull together and try to get the word out.”
Tim Griffin said there should be no reason for residents not to make an educated decision this time around.
“We’ve been handing out a lot of pamphlets and talking to people in small groups, and the district has been getting out a lot of information,” he said.
Despite all of that, some residents aren’t sold on the project, especially during tough economic times, and in particular, a new auditorium.
Steve Bartle is a town of Troy resident who graduated from East Troy High School, took over running the family jewelry business in Mukwonago about 26 years ago and has deep roots in the area, including 30 years on the volunteer fire department.
“A new auditorium would be cool and nice, but not right now,” Bartle said. “You can bend the statistics any way you want. Just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should. ... A lot of people are struggling in this crappy economy, and we should wait until it gets better.
“A majority of people showed (in November) that they didn’t want the auditorium, but supporters didn’t listen,” Bartle added. “For some reason, they really want it now. If it’s such a priority, why can’t they figure out something to cut to fund this? It would be nice if they had two separate (referenda). If it’s defeated again, that’s sad because the other stuff they really need won’t get done. ... I have a bad feeling it will go through, and then people like me, who already are cutting back, will have to pay for that, too.”
Beverly Faust had this to say on Facebook: “Too bad they included the auditorium in the referendum. I go along with the school improvements, but not the auditorium because everyone doesn’t use it. East Troy can do an excellent job of educating our children by making improvements. The taxes, not the schools, influence people to live in East Troy. They know we have excellent educational facilities and great teachers.”
Still, the board agreed in January to take a second swing for the fences.
Other major parts of the project include $2.1 million for a science, technology, engineering, art and math addition and $1.4 million in renovations of the technical education rooms at the high school, plus $340,000 in safety and security upgrades throughout the district.
However, the auditorium appears to be the lightning rod that could unite residents or send both teams home again.
“A major point for me is the idea that the auditorium is for the community,” said Wexler, who has served on village and town boards during his 36 years in the area. “Serving on these boards has helped give me a good look at how we’re all connected and have to work together in coordinating services and communication, and in this case we’ve fallen short of that. Sure, this referendum and auditorium are beneficial to the school and the kids, but it also will benefit the towns, the village, community groups and businesses.”
The Griffins agree wholeheartedly.
“People say that the auditorium is a want, not a need, but I disagree,” Sue Griffin said. “Educational research shows that a well-established arts program is vital to students’ critical thinking and problem solving.”
“Our board has a vision of excellence, and what we have is good,” Tim Griffin said, “but we don’t want to be good, we want