Decision time: Forums to help you decideOn Dec. 8, 1998, River Falls voters approved a four-question $30-million-plus school referendum.
By: Phil Pfuehler, River Falls Journal
On Dec. 8, 1998, River Falls voters approved a four-question $30-million-plus school referendum.
The key question was whether to build a new high school; convert the current high school into a middle school; remodel the existing middle school into what became the River Falls Academy; and to add two classrooms and furnishings for Westside Elementary School.
Other questions from the December 1998 referendum included building an auditorium for the new high school; also an eight-lane pool; and providing an extra $600,000 in operating costs for the new high school.
The main question about building a new high school passed by roughly a 56% to 44% margin. The other three questions passed, but by closer margins.
Two years before River Falls voters decisively rejected a smaller-sized referendum to build a new middle school.
Now the time approaches for an even larger-sized referendum of just under $39 million.
Superintendent Tom Westerhaus says the new referendum isn’t “glamorous.” For one thing, there’s no new school to build.
So what’s vital about the April 5 school referendum and what will help voters decide on how to vote?
The school board has set up five information forums at five schools to explain what’s at stake. The five all begin at 7 p.m. and occur:
- Tuesday, Feb. 8, at Meyer Middle School’s media center
- Tuesday, Feb. 22, at Rocky Branch Elementary’s media center
- Monday, Feb. 28, at Greenwood Elementary’s media center
- Tuesday, March 1, at Westside Elementary’s media center
- Thursday, March 3, at the River Falls Academy’s lower gym
“These are really informational meetings conducted by the school board,” Westerhaus said Monday. “In the end, citizens will make a decision. The meetings are only to explain what is being proposed, and that’s to invest in our existing schools for the long term so they last for several more decades.”
Westerhaus said that obviously the forums will show why the school board believes a referendum is needed. Beyond that, he said the forums won’t be a pep rally for getting out the “yes vote.”
“I expect there will be naysayers at the forums, and that’s OK,” he said. “What’s important is that as many people as possible attend the forums, get the facts, see the presentation, listen to the questions and answers, and then decide for themselves whether to vote yes or no.”
Depending on the number of questions, Westerhaus said the forums would last about an hour and a half.
Each forum will begin with a PowerPoint overview of the school district, including its recent history, engineering and architectural studies for each school, the local demographic findings and a recap of the school district’s Strategic Plan.
Audience members are then free to go to a microphone and ask questions. School board members and district administrators will try to answer.
The April school referendum has four components: Educational space; safety and security; energy efficiency and sustainability; deferred maintenance and physical accessibility.
Upgrades are planned for all buildings, including the school bus garage. Much of the work is aimed at the two oldest schools -- Greenwood Elementary and the River Falls Academy.
River Falls area residents should be receiving by mail a bond referendum information guide titled, “Reinvesting in Our Schools: Meeting the Needs of Our Students.”
Using charts and graphics, the brochure examines the upgrades proposed for each school and why they’re needed.
Westerhaus said the referendum guide replaces the fall mailing for the school district’s twice-annual newsletter.
Since Jan. 4, Westerhaus and Finance Director Chad Smurawa have spoken before various clubs, organizations and PTOs about the upcoming referendum. These engagements will continue through February.
A pro-referendum citizens group called “River Falls Invests: Our Children, Our Community, Our Future” has recently formed.
The group’s “tri-chairs” are Mike Stifter, Tom Carroll, and (Rick and Jennie) Price.
Stifter said there are about 25 core group members, but that number could expand to 150-200 volunteers by later this winter.
The group also expects to host a number of “community and neighborhood coffee gatherings” in March.