Beloit’s referendum is significantly different than others. What began in October as a 26 million dollar referendum exploded, practically overnight, to 70 million dollars — the largest being considered in Wisconsin.
Wording on the ballot does not inform the voter of the inextricable consequences of its passage — reconfiguration of our entire school district and multiple neighborhood school closures across Beloit. Such decisions typically involving community input and careful study in collaboration with city planners, professionals, teachers and parents were brought forth with little or no input, leaving many questions and concerns for parents and taxpayers.
The new 4-8 intermediate school planned for the Morgan area will benefit the children in Beloit’s most affluent neighborhoods. But nearby, our less affluent children will spend five years at Aldrich, an uninviting school in serious need of repair.
On the west side, half of the children will have a new school and the others will attend McNeel, another old building neglected over the years. All families pay for the referendum, but only some benefit.
This referendum leaves nearly half of Beloit’s students in subpar facilities neglected for too many years. Aldrich, McNeel, and most of our high school, all with “dire needs” were publicly presented as a main reason for the referendum. In the end, these schools were left out and will receive none of the funds.
Promises that 8 million dollars in needed repairs will somehow be met are glossed over in presentations; the math does not make sense and no solid plan for funding has been presented.
The district’s entire 2 million dollar annual maintenance fund will not be enough for necessary repairs, and the 2.3 million dollar annual savings projected several years from now will be needed for other operational expenses.
It is irresponsible to intentionally exclude schools in such poor condition.
The proposed reconfiguration of elementary and middle schools was not research-driven. No particular grade configuration guarantees student achievement.
We know that middle school students enjoy choices and a sense of belonging somewhere in their school. With this proposal, we will have half as many 6th-8th grade students in each building. There may be fewer opportunities for electives, exploratory courses, and some extracurricular activities, especially in performing arts.
Community input from the beginning would have brought alternative ideas of how to condense buildings and reduce expenses.
We just restructured our elementary schools a year ago, and our elementary students are now performing at higher levels than ever. It’s working well. Soon, we will be sending better-prepared students to the middle schools and we’ll see improvements there as well. But if we jump into a new multimillion-dollar reconfiguration now, and it is not successful, there is no going back.
With neighborhood school closures, there is no law that requires busing. We have already been told that children grades 4 through 8 will have to cross Highway 81 to get to school. Deliberately creating a less than safe situation for children is poor planning.
As for cost, calculate your annual tax increase based on your assessed property value. Know that you, the taxpayer, will pay the full cost of the referendum. Some of us can afford the tax increase, many cannot.
This referendum was rushed and lacks proper planning and community input. This is our “once every twenty years” opportunity to get it right. Voting “no” will send this back to the board to develop a better referendum — one that will address the needs of each school, and make all of Beloit a better place to live.
Pam Charles is a leader of Beloiters for a Better Referendum