Tuesday’s school district referendum in Johnson Creek became a microcosm of what’s happening across the nation: The need for current improvements versus the ability to pay for those improvements in the current economic climate.
Voters in Johnson Creek rejected a $20 million plan Tuesday to build a high school and middle school along with athletic fields on 13 acres of district-owned land. It was the second time in five years voters turned down a referendum to build one facility for all of the district’s students who live in central Jefferson County.
“I’m hearing from neighbors saying they’ll have to sell their homes if the referendum passes,” Bernice Sukow, a Farmington resident living in the Johnson Creek School District, said before Tuesday’s referendum. “It’s just a scary time right now.
“People are out of work, and I’m thinking this new school will raise taxes to a point where we can’t afford it.”
The referendum asked voters two questions: The first asked for $17.7 million to build an 86,000-square-foot high school and middle school along Highway B; the second asked for $2.4 million to build an athletic field with a track and football, softball and practice areas adjacent to the new school buildings.
In promotional materials, district officials argued the new schools were needed to replace the existing high school and middle school building, built in 1956, because it lacks space and has outdated electrical and mechanical systems.
Had the referendum passed, it could have added as much as $600 to annual tax bills, said Mark Lemminger, a member of the Johnson Creek Village Board.
“Right now is not a good time to ask taxpayers to support a referendum,” he said, “because people are losing their jobs and worrying about their income.”
Meanwhile, voters in the Jefferson School District approved the largest referendum in the state this spring. Two years ago, voters in the Jefferson School District rejected a pair of referendums asking for $45 million and $39.7 million. But on Tuesday, voters said “yes” to a $35 million construction project that will expand and remodel the high school that was built in 1963.
The following are other results from around the state:
* In Waunakee, voters rejected the majority of a $33.4 building and maintenance plan. A fourth referendum asking for $8.45 million for maintenance and construction, was undecided as of early Wednesday morning.
* In Stoughton, voters approved exceeding the revenue cap by $8.4 million and agreed to a $7.2 million proposal for a new phone system and 10-year maintenance plan.
* In Brodhead, voters rejected a second referendum in less than two months.
* In the Reedsburg School District, three elementary schools will likely close after voters in the district overwhelmingly turned down a referendum asking to increase the revenue cap by $1 million in each of the next four years.
* In Westfield, voters also turned down a plan to increase the revenue cap by $3.5 million over three years.