Referendum train gains steam
WORTHINGTON -- Chairman Bob Jirele confirmed Tuesday night that the District 518 Board of Education appears steadfastly headed in the direction of a referendum in 2006.
At Tuesday's regular meeting of the board, Superintendent John Landgaard said that 20 groups at last week's public meeting indicated an interest in pursuing an operating referendum in the fall, with only four indicating opposition. Though Landgaard said he doesn't know how many individuals are represented pro or con, board members seem to be taking the unscientific data as a favorable ruling.
"That's the type of information we needed," said Jirele, recalling the district's 2005 referendum that went down to defeat. "It was just so quiet in the last election. We didn't know where people were at. And that was one of the main reasons for last week's public meeting, to gauge people's interest."
More favorable referendum indicators were heard during Tuesday night's meeting when board member Joel Lorenz said he was told by several local residents to keep cuts "minimal" this year and focus on passing a referendum. The board is in the midst of reducing the 2006-2007 budget by approximately $500,000, with greater cuts likely in 2007-2008 if a referendum is not passed.
The board set a March 2 date for a special meeting, at which time another public meeting will be scheduled.
"I think we owe it to (residents) to follow through with one more meeting," Lorenz said.
Fellow board member Linden Olson agreed, but said the board must provide residents with more information "to understand the situation District 518 is in."
"The public has to be made aware of the severity of cuts and what kind of cuts will have to be made to get to that number," Olson said.
Steve Schnieder said he and other board members need to maintain a dialogue with local citizens.
"I think we need to respond to whether we think (their suggestions) are a good idea or a bad idea and why we think it's a good idea or a bad idea," he said.
Landgaard said he was pleased with public input at the Feb. 13 public meeting, but residents need more information on a variety of topics, from busing to how the administration works. People who have questioned whether bus use can be streamlined, he said, need to know that the transportation contract has already been established and "it does not cost any more to run those buses that way."
While specifics of the public meeting were discussed, the conclusion of Tuesday's meeting focused on referendum issues. Lori Dudley said she hopes to discuss the referendum at the March 2 meeting, and fellow board member Lowell Nystrom agreed.
"To me (the cuts ahead) are very, very severe," Nystrom said. "I think this board has an obligation to provide financial leadership to the community. And one of those options, whether we like it or not, is setting a referendum. ... I think we need to talk about it."
In other action, the board:
l Approved the expulsion of three students for the remainder of the 2005-2006 school year due to violations of District 518 policy.
l Approved a request to obtain bids for the Middle School roofing project and the high school asbestos abatement project. Two sections of roof at the Middle School are affected, and five areas at the high school are to be investigated for possible asbestos abatement and replacement of tile.