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River Falls School District puts referendum proposals for community to vote on Nov. 8

November 4, 2011

On Tuesday, Nov. 8, voters in the River Falls School District will be asked whether or not they would like to pass a referendum on three separate questions, with the total projected cost estimated around $38 million.

Tom Westerhaus, the superintendent of the River Falls School District, said it is important for the campus community to understand the implications of the referendum, as the decision has an impact on the overall community of River Falls.

“For students, it is important that the University takes interest in whether the referendum passes or not. River Falls has always been seen as a pro-education community. We have students from the University come to our schools to help, coach or do things in the schools, so it is important to have good facilities,” said Westerhaus.

Westerhaus added that the referendum would also impact faculty or students who own property in River Falls. The River Falls School Board estimates that for a property valued around $200,000, the total cost to the taxpayer if all three questions are passed will add an estimated $154 in taxes.

Westerhaus noted that it was his role to provide the facts, which include the costs and building conditions. It was not his role, he said, to advocate one way or the other regarding the referendum. The focus of the questions involved in the referendum includes four key areas, according to the School District of River Falls. They include safety and security, educational program/space, energy efficiency and sustainability and deferred maintenance and physical accessibility.

Opponents of the referendum state that the current items up for vote are no different than the referendum, which failed in April. With over 5,000 votes cast the last time around, the referendum failed by 182 votes, or roughly 1.5 percent. Westerhaus stated that he believes that now is a good time to bring the referendum back into question as the school board has listened to what the voters had to say regarding the defaults of the first referendum. He also stated that the longer the district waits with updates to spacing and facility needs, the more the cost is likely to increase.

The biggest change, Westerhaus noted, was that the referendum is now split into three questions instead of one. This means that any of the three items can pass with or without the others. The proposed referendum also addresses the community’s concerns with the Academy Building, which has been the cause of debate. Under the new referendum, the building would not be demolished. Another main concern for the referendum was the cost.

The main arguments Westerhaus has heard against the referendum stem from the costs related to the project. Opponents do not feel it is the time to ask citizens to dig into their pocketbooks once more, given the current economic climate.

In an opinion letter published in the River Falls Journal on Oct. 27, citizens also noted that they feel it is not necessary to add extra space since the population of children attending River Falls Public Schools has been flat over the past several years. Polls open at 7 a.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 8 and close at 8 p.m. Students living on campus can vote at the University Center. All other students and faculty vote at their regular polling places.