RACINE COUNTY — A slim majority of residents who voted Tuesday in Caledonia and Sturtevant appeared to favor parting from the Racine Unified School District and creating their own school systems.
Voters in Caledonia voted yes to the referendum and to the village seeking its own school district with 2,481 yes votes and 2,372 no votes, unofficial results showed with all wards reporting.
“I’m excited,” said Caledonia Village Board member Ed Willing after seeing similar results Tuesday night. “What it means is that we have a majority voting against the status quo with Racine Unified … it’s time to move forward now.”
Sturtevant voters also barely passed the referendum, by a margin of 352 yes votes to 346 no votes, according to unofficial results Tuesday night.
Although the results of the two separate referendums do not bind any government entity to action, the yes vote by residents could spur proponents to seek a change in state law that would ease the process for a community to separate from a school district.
“The next step is still up to those communities,” said Unified board President Dennis Wiser. “There’s no next step for the board, it’s all in their hands.”
Now that the referendums have been approved, a likely next step is for the village boards to start investigating the feasibility of creating a new school district, specifically calling on the Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance to update a study on the subject conducted for Caledonia in 2008.
However, Caledonia Board President Bob Bradley cautioned in an interview Monday that the village would probably not put money toward a study right away.
Noting how the task of creating a school district would be nearly impossible under current law, Bradley expected village officials would wait for state legislators to change the law and make the process easier before paying for another study.
“I can’t imagine us going and investing $30,000 in something the state isn’t going to support anyway,” Bradley said.
Proponents of a Caledonia school district, led by Willing and former Unified school board member Brian Dey, are seeking changes in state law on creating a new school district, specifically a change that would take some decision-making power away from the district school board and put the decision in voters’ hands through a referendum.
Unified administrators have warned that separating from the school district could duplicate administrative costs, pose many unforeseen logistical challenges and increase taxes in the wealthier suburbs that leave.
Proponents of a new school district argue that a new school district should not increase taxes substantially, but they are also seeking an updated financial study to clarify the costs.
Before the election, Bradley said the board would decide whether it would delegate further actions to an existing subcommittee or create a new committee.
Also speaking before the elections, Sturtevant board member Chris Larsen said the Village Board would look at how to set aside money in next year’s budget to conduct a similar study for Sturtevant.