Editorial: State of our schools: In hindsight and foresightThe results of the latest River Falls school levy referendum will produce slightly higher property taxes and some valuable repairs and upgrades to improve and extend the lifespan of our local public schools.
The results of the latest River Falls school levy referendum will produce slightly higher property taxes and some valuable repairs and upgrades to improve and extend the lifespan of our local public schools.
That aside, we take note of the following:
--Considering the referendum was the sole ballot issue affecting people’s pocketbooks and our children’s education, voter turnout was lousy. In the city of River Falls, turnout was 24%; in the town of River Falls, 37%; town of Clifton, 36%; town of Kinnickinnic, 33%, town of Troy, 27%.
--That’s hardly a healthy sign for democratic participation when far fewer than half of eligible voters show up at the polls to decide questions that pertain to the quality of local education and carry a combined price tag of more than $38 million. What were you doing, non-voting River Falls, not to be bothered with casting your vote on Nov. 8?
--Our school board maybe contributed to the voting malaise. Seven months earlier a slim majority voted against a school levy referendum. The turnout then was higher. It would be hard to fault the logic of some voters for cynically asking, Wasn’t our voice heard the first time? Why must we go through this process again?
--When you ask for more money, more taxes, timing is everything. Holding two school referendums, one toward the end of a near depression and the second during a so-called economic recovery that still feels like a recession, is simply bad timing. Yes, interest rates for borrowing are way down and contractors are bidding low for scarce jobs, but most of us who still have jobs and homes are just getting by and have lost retirement and other investment savings, plus seen our property values plummet.
--The fate of the River Falls Academy remains precarious. In the first referendum, some voters were angry at spending money to demolish the older, historic sections while other voters didn’t like pouring any money into modernizing the newer sections. In the second referendum, voters again rejected spending millions to modernize even while the older section was to be closed off and left intact. Meanwhile, the Montessori elementary and Renaissance high school programs still must operate in the Academy.
--What can be done to bridge the divide between city and rural residents? In both school referendums, clear majorities of residents in the surrounding towns have voted no. In the city of River Falls, majorities have voted yes on referendum questions. The exception was the second referendum’s question three. There, city residents joined their country counterparts and voted against paying for improvements at the River Falls Academy. One is left to ask: Why this urban/rural schism on school voting?
--Pragmatic voters — at least those who bothered to vote — supported the most basic, nut-and-bolts referendum question, the one that will result in school redesigns to achieve better student safety and security and will add energy-efficient mechanical systems with new pipes and roofs that don’t leak. The $19 million price tag wasn’t cheap, but it showed that even as people struggle economically, they can be persuaded to support sensible school upkeep. In hindsight, this might have been the one and only question to ask last April.
The Journal’s online poll question this week asked: How do you feel about the outcome of the Nov. 8 school referendum?
Early results show: DISSATSIFIED, 50%; SATISFIED, 35%; UNINTERESTED, 15%.
To catch local news updates and to vote on this question, go to www.riverfallsjournal.com.