Journal Times editorial: A billion dollar Unified referendum is too much
Our Perspective

Journal Times editorial: A billion dollar Unified referendum is too much

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They say money doesn’t solve everything. It appears Racine Unified School District didn’t get that memo because on Monday, the Racine Unified School Board unanimously approved a 30-year billion dollar (yes, billion with a B) plan that includes construction projects at all Racine Unified schools as well as construction of new schools to replace aging facilities.

For the last three years, Racine Unified School District received a grade of “meets few expectations” on its state report card, with extra points knocked for high absenteeism.

That is a huge problem, and something our community and RUSD need to do something about. But the reality is that a new parking lot, cafeteria or even new school buildings will not mean more children will show up to school or get the kids who show up to perform better in school.

The problems go a lot deeper than new walls and floors.

While the district has created a detailed facilities plan, the district hasn’t done enough to show how that plan translates into better outcomes for Racine area students.

Additionally, administrators weren’t upfront about what they were actually asking for.

The district – even up through the Monday night school board vote – kept calling this a “$598 million referendum,” and ignoring the additional costs such as debt services.

Journal Times staff had to do the math. After we added up the true cost of every year of the 30-year referendum, we uncovered what the district is actually asking for.

The referendum is asking for $18 million per year from the 2020-2021 school year through 2024-2025 (5 years); $22.5 million per year from the 2025-2026 school year through 2028-2029 (4 years) and $42.5 million per year from the 2029-2030 school year through 2049-2050 (21 years). In total, those annual amounts add up to more than $1 billion.

Here is the math:

  • $18 million x 5 years = $90 million
  • $22.5 million x 4 years = $90 million
  • $42.5 million x 21 years = $892.5 million
  • That totals: $1.072 billion over 30 years above the levy limit.

The district claims it will enforce measures that would prevent the tax rate from going up while the referendum is in effect. We don’t buy it.

The district couldn’t be upfront about how much money is being asked for in the referendum, so why should voters trust them when they say they don’t plan to spend that much money?

At this point, the only way for voters to really hold the board and administrators accountable is to not approve the referendum. Make them come up with another plan, something that’s transparent about what’s happening with our money, and something that actually focuses on improving education for our kids.

A lot of Unified buildings have real problems, and they need to be addressed. But this is too much, especially considering how liberally the school district has used its relatively unrestrained Community Service Fund, which the district can use to spend on practically anything it wants so long as the project is intended to benefit the community beyond Unified.

That is where the funds for the new $23 million aquatic center are coming from, as well as the additional million to install artificial turf on historic Horlick Field. That is completely outside the referendum.

Unified probably could have gotten a referendum approved in April. But not one of this magnitude.

A billion dollars in new facilities is not going to solve the district’s problems. They got greedy.

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