River Falls Wildcats

River Falls School Board members were presented with a speech from Superintendent Jamie Benson discussing a referendum at their Dec. 19 meeting. His speech gave a brief outline about the referendum process.

The target date for the referendum to go to voters is February 2024.

Benson said the district is interested in holding a referendum but did not provide specific issues it would address. He mentioned increasing current facilities and improving classroom experience as two options.

“We’re not going to describe what a referendum looks like,” he said.

Benson said the district plans to provide community members with a survey discussing different issues. He said the feedback will help narrow what issues need to be addressed for the referendum.

Benson did not provide a timeline for when the surveys will be administered.

Work has already begun to gather information about potential referendum items. The district hired an architect firm to conduct a formal faculty study. During their study, the firm will conduct staff interviews and walkthroughs to examine current education standards. 

Benson hopes their data will guide where improvements can be made. He added their findings will help guide what issues can be addressed in the referendum.

A demographer was hired to provide a housing study and enrollment projections for the district. Benson said that data will inform the district if facility expansion is needed, a potential referendum item. 

The report will be presented at the February school board meeting.

Since the district is still collecting information, Benson said the district “has a lot of homework to do” before any referendum items are finalized.

Benson made it clear community members will have input on the issues. He said the district will have two-way communication with the public as more information gets collected.

“We will purposely find ourselves in meetings, newspaper articles and having listening sessions with the public. We want to be as transparent as possible,” he said.

To fund the referendum process, Benson said the school board previously approved early payments on debt items. The early payments allowed for other debt items to be restructured.

Since the debt is being restructured it allows the public to see little or no increase to their property taxes, according to Benson.

Wisconsin law states the school board has to pass a resolution 70 days prior to the referendum. This means the board would need to vote in November 2023 on the resolution approving the questions included in the referendum.

“We need to have our homework done in the next 11 months. We’ve got some work ahead of us,” Benson said.

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