On the heels of Caledonia and Sturtevant residents wanting their own school districts, Sen. Van Wanggaard (R-Racine) and Rep. Tom Weatherston (R-Caledonia) crafted a provision in the state budget that would mandate that unified school district boards no longer be elected at-large positions. Instead, they would be elected based on a district representation system, said Scott Kelly, chief of staff for Wanggaard.
Approved by the state Legislative budget committee Tuesday night, the provision will be tucked inside the state budget. The change is expected to be up for a vote in the Senate and Assembly sometime in the next few weeks, said Scott Kelly, chief of staff for Wanggaard’s office.
“People from those communities in unified are looking for a voice in Racine Unified, especially in those non-Racine communities,” Kelly said. “We’re looking to give them a voice on that board.”
If passed, the changes would take effect during the April 2016 election and would only apply to the Racine Unified School District, Weatherston pointed out in a press release.
“This change will provide a greater voice for residents throughout the district,” Weatherston said. “School board members for Racine Unified will now be elected the same way aldermen are in the City of Racine.”
Caledonia and Sturtevant residents approved an advisory referendum to start researching the possibility of pulling out of the Racine Unified School District. The group complained that they had no voice on the school board because the positions are at large and most of the school board is comprised of people living in Racine.
Brian Dey, former school board member, said he’s been pushing for Caledonia representation on the board since 2007.
“It’s a great start and it will be something of value to residents while we’re looking at forming our own district,” Dey said.
Officials with Racine Unified School District have not been able to check all the changes.
“There is a lot of content we need to review and understand better before we can respond,” said Stacy Tapp, spokesperson for the Racine Unified School District.
A number of Caledonia residents want the village to pay for a feasibility study to look at forming their own school district. A number of those residents showed up to a board meeting on Monday night asking the village to move forward with the process.
Ed Willing, Caledonia village trustee and member of the group pushing for the formation of an independent school district, said he wants to see the JFC provision passed.
“I support this move,” Willing said. “As a taxpayer, parent and village board member, I see the value this brings to neighboring communities who deserve representation to go with their taxation. Caledonia provides nearly $19 million a year to RUSD but has no say on the board.”
Still, Willing plans to continue pushing for an independent school district.
“It is the most common issue among new homebuyers, young families and new businesses,” Willing said. “The proposed changes to RUSD do very little to assuage these concerns.”
But the provision isn’t meant to be a silver bullet to fix the school district, Kelly said.
“Those people that want to (pursue forming an independent school district) can still do that, but these elections weren’t landslides,” Kelly said.
Another monkey wrench in forming the independent school district is that Racine Unified would need to approve their plan. Weatherston and Wanggaard have talked about the possibility of doing that, but they don’t have consensus at the state level to get a bill passed, Kelly said.
Kelly said Wanggaard and Weatherston need to educate their members to get more buy-in, but now the state budget is “taking all the air out of the room” and it’s difficult to “make bigger changes.”
“We didn’t find statewide support for to pass a bill,” Kelly said. “We’re not saying it’s not going to happen. It’s still could happen.”
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