It will take an army to pass referendum

By: 
Lee Pulaski
City Editor

Shawano School District officials are fine-tuning their efforts as they get ready to lob another referendum to voters in November after the last one sputtered out before the finish line with just a 75-vote margin between the let’s-do-its and the not-on-my-tax-bills.

With about a month since the last election, questions have been asked to the voters, the Shawano School Board and other interested parties about what went wrong. During the listening sessions in mid-April, one cause was a lack of detail about why these fixes and expansions were needed, how the district could actually borrow money without raising property taxes and how much specifically goes where (i.e., how much to build a new weight room, how much for a new scene shop for the performing arts).

Another stumbling block was that only a few people knew all the details. Superintendent Kurt Krizan was giving presentations, and representatives from Hoffman Planning and Design held some workshops, but for those who might not have been able to attend any of those events, their recourse was contacting coaches and teachers. However, it was revealed during April’s school board meeting that department heads for performing arts and technical education didn’t know all the details.

It’s obvious that the first step is to expand the circle of knowledge, making sure that leaders are in the know for round two as the district tries again. The schools shouldn’t stop there, though, as there are people who don’t want to go to public meetings and others who toss away anything that’s not a bill or letter from a loved one.

Shawano School District needs an army.

In a time before consulting firms came into being, school districts were still able to pass capital referenda, in spite of having to keep their message neutral. To do that, though, community volunteers needed to be recruited to form organizations both pro and con to get the word out. If you look around the Shawano schools, there are already plenty of groups that support the schools — the cheerleaders minus the pom pons.

For the younger students, there are parent-teacher organizations that plan events and other fundraising activities to help the schools get equipment, books and even machines to hold the books. They’re the perfect addition to letting community members know the details about what’s involved with the referendum, how it impacts property owners and, most importantly, how it impacts children’s education.

Up at Shawano Community High School, which has the lion’s share of the proposed projects, you have athletic boosters, and you have performing arts boosters, two of three big programs at SCHS. I’m not aware of a trades boosters organization, but if the school doesn’t have one, maybe one should form. It might be interesting to see how well folks with power tools can encourage folks to vote for the referendum, and if some people still don’t understand, there are plenty of two-by-fours to whack them in the head with.

We saw how much community involvement could implement change two years ago, when previous Superintendent Randi Anderson was speaking about slashing the budget and potentially closing a school. People came out en masse to protest the ideas and even came together to sign a petition asking her to resign and targeting school board members who still supported her for recall. The end result was Anderson’s exit, along with a number of board members resigning rather than facing the firing squad of voters.

Since then, a couple of the rabble rousers are now part of the restoration work as school board members, but everyone else has gone back into seclusion as the impending doom was cancelled. Community togetherness worked then, but to pass the referendum in November, the band’s going to need to get back together.

More people are expected to vote in November. If the district wants to educate voters and get them to vote yes this time, it’s going to take an army.

Lee Pulaski is the city editor for NEW Media. Readers can contact him at lpulaski@newmedia-wi.com.