Turner recount shows referendum still failed

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TOWN OF BELOIT - The Turner School District's $26.8 million referendum still did not pass after a recount conducted on Wednesday indicated the measure failed by three votes.

Rock County Clerk Lisa Tollefson said the voters for the referendum remained the same, while the votes against it increased by one. The final tally was 920 yes and 923 no.

District Clerk John Pelock said the Turner Board of Education will be hosting a board workshop at 6 p.m. on May 7 in the district board room to discuss how the district can address upgrading the district's facilities. The meeting is open to the public, and the board is encouraging the public to provide input on how the district should move forward, Pelock said. This is the second failed referendum the district has had in recent years. Voters shot down a $28 million referendum in 2013.

Superintendent Dennis McCarthy said the district fell just short on the referendum.

"There is encouraging information to take from this referendum," McCarthy said. "Five years ago, our referendum failed by a 68 percent to 32 percent margin. Falling three votes short this past week should tell us we have made tremendous progress."

Based on how close the vote was this time, Pelock said it's a good indication citizens want change.

"We're getting to the point where we have to think outside the box a little bit," Pelock said. "We have to start thinking of all the priorities and explore every option we have, which can only happen through discussion."

He's hoping board members can reach common points of interest with each other and the community to find a one goal moving forward to help advance students' futures. McCarthy said the board needs to come to a consensus moving forward.

"We decided on a community driven process, and that is exactly what we got," McCarthy said. "I believe that is why we made those gains here, albeit falling just short. As a board and as a district, we should accept that the community is very close to a decision that will move us forward."

The referendum was guided by the Citizens Facility Study Committee. The committee was created to assess and develop a plan to address the district's security needs, operational efficiencies and updates to classrooms and infrastructure.

McCarthy believes abandoning the work of the committee would be a "huge mistake."

"Their work was essential in guiding us through this process and they should be praised for their collective effort," McCarthy said. "Anyone who actively participated and watched the work of this group knows that."

Board member Norm Jacobs suspects the board will develop a plan to address the district's needs during the workshop.

"Hopefully we'll be able to make some short term and long term plans," Jacobs said.

He believes two of those immediate priorities should be upgrading the middle/high school's science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) program and decide if it's worth putting more funds into upgrading Townview. He urges residents to realize all the benefits they incur when the district upgrades its facilities.

"It's the single greatest way for residents to add value to their homes, and they need to keep in that mind," Jacobs said.

Board members John Turner, Kim Ward and Kristie Petitt and incoming board member Melissa Genovese Hughes could not be reached for comment by press time.

If the referendum had been approved the funds would have been used to build a new second-fifth grade elementary school and improve the middle/high school's STEM program. The referendum also would have closed Townview Elementary School and moved second graders from Powers Elementary to the new elementary school.

Townview was ruled to be the district's most ineffective building, because of it's aging septic and well system, lacking high-speed internet access, having original plumbing and electrical systems, having no dedicated cafeteria space which doesn't also double as a gym, and the school is located on a road with a speed limit of 55 mph.

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