(More: Voters mull upcoming Beloit school referendum )
As Dennis Hines reports in this week’s cover story, the School District of Beloit is asking voters to approve a $70 million referendum to pay for building renovations throughout the district and the construction of a new intermediate school.
Where it gets complicated is that the renovations and construction of a new school are part of a larger reconfiguration plan within the district.
There’s little doubt that many of Beloit’s schools are in need of upgrades and repairs.
Eight buildings in the district were built before 1928, and the newest school was built in 1965, according to district officials.
The last renovation of a school building was Beloit Memorial High School in 1994. The historic high school pool, which hosted the two first
girls’ state swim championships, now is unusable for high school meets.
As explained by the group Imagine Beloit, the reconfiguration would create six PreK through grade 3 schools and add two new grade 4 through 8 intermediate schools.
The intermediate schools would be created by renovating the existing Cunningham School on the west side, construction of a new east side school that would replace Morgan Elementary and converting Aldrich and McNeel to intermediate schools.
In addition to Morgan, the other facilities to be retired under the plan are Royce, McLenegan, Wright, Burdge and the Kolak Center.
School referenda typically ask for money for renovations of district facilities, or perhaps for the construction of a new school.
But in this case, the referendum request for money and the reconfiguration plan are inextricably linked.
Some parents we’ve talked to question whether the district has been straightforward in presenting information about the plan.
But rather than being deception, the complexity of the plan makes it difficult to grasp for most busy parents and voters.
The actual cost to taxpayers also isn’t as simple as it first appears. In fact, the cost will be much less. The referendum question asks for $70 million, however because Beloit is a low property value district, the state picks up 64 percent of the tab.
Add to that cost savings from facility upgrades and the expiration of a bond in 2012, and the net cost could potentially be even less.
District officials have gone to great lengths to get the word out, hosting a series of public meetings to go over details of the plan.
Opponents, led by school board member Tia Johnson and former board member Pam Charles, argue there are too many unanswered questions for residents to comfortably approve the referendum.
Although the district has been discussing the reconfiguration since 1998, opponents say the referendum decision was rushed. They also argue that the district has needs that aren’t addressed in the referendum.
Their group, Beloiters for a Better Referendum, also is holding a series of public meetings.
Ultimately, the decision rests with the voters. But more than most, voters need to do their homework to make sure they’re making a decision that’s best for them.
Editor’s note: Dan Plutchak is an associate editor for CSI Media, publisher of the Janesville Messenger, Walworth County Sunday and the Stateline News. Contact him at email@example.com, on Facebook.com/DanPlutchak or on Twitter @danplutchak