Janesville49.1°

Beloit Turner School District to try a referendum

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Gina Duwe
January 16, 2013

— Beloit Turner School District voters will decide this spring whether to build a $28 million, 600-student high school.

School board President Doug Clark explained to about 30 audience members why the time is right for the project before the board unanimously approved an April 2 referendum during a special meeting Tuesday night.

About a dozen residents spoke with a mix of supportive and skeptical comments, along with many questions about the scope of the project and the impact of increasing open enrollment.

Board member John Pelock said he was initially skeptical about "a lot of this" and still has reservations about school choice, but voters have a chance to vote "yes" or "no."

A high school can be built now at bargain rates because of low financing and operating aid from open enrollment students, he said. Resident growth inevitably will increase as the economy rebounds, and the district will be able to manage enrollment.

He wants people to "seriously consider" that the school will be ready when resident students will be filling it, rather than more open enrollment students.

Turner is one of the few districts in the state with an open enrollment waiting list. More than 200 students are on the list this year. The district has a net gain of about 200 students, with 22 percent of Turner students coming from outside the district this year.

At the board's regular meeting Monday night, it approved 68 additional open enrollment spots for next year between 4k, 5k, fourth grade and sixth grade.

While the new school would have a 600-student capacity, the district doesn't expect—or want—to fill it right away, Clark said.

"If the day that building opens up, we have 600 students show up at the door, we made a big error," he said.

Board members addressed taxpayers' concerns about the cost the referendum would have on people who are struggling. Clark explained how his entire family lives in the district—from retired parents to young adult sons.

"Everyone on this board is well aware of the sacrifice we're going to be asking. We do not take this lightly," he said. "We do understand that it does have a financial impact on everyone in this district."

One of the most important things citizens should ask themselves is whether they can afford it—but also whether the district can afford not to move ahead.

Sooner or later, a building will have to be built because the newest district school is 45 years old, he said.

Resident Gene Ziemba said he attended all the recent meetings, even though he doesn't have any children in the district. While others were focused on the cost and open enrollment students, "nobody has really talked about the kids that are already here," he said.

"Those kids, if you don't do anything with the school, will continue to have what they have—they won't have any more AP (advanced placement) classes, they won't have any modernization of what they need, and they won't be equipped to go out in society and get a job," he said. "It's inevitable. You're going to need a new building sometime. … Now's the time to do it because of the cost."

The plan would bring grades three through eight into the current middle/high school, a move that has raised a lot of questions, Clark said. He said he would much rather see a third-grader around an eighth-grader than a sixth-grader around senior high kids. The move also will be easier to keep grades three to five isolated from grades six to eight than it is with the current configuration, he said.

Clark said he doesn't anticipate an ad hoc committee that has listened to project details and asked questions to dissolve. Administrators and board members will decide in the coming days what role the committee will play and whether a referendum consultant should be hired, Clark said. He planned to schedule a special school board meeting soon.

"We're going to do everything in our power to get the information out," Clark said. "We want everybody to make their decision based on good information."

He said he would be remiss to think everybody's going to vote yes, and he asked that "everybody keep it civil. Don't make it personal."

"This is about the kids," he said. "This is about the future of our district."



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