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Caledonia residents will have the opportunity to vote on whether they support forming an independent Caledonia school district and separate from the Racine Unified School District.

Voters will be asked to answer the non-binding advisory referendum question during the spring election, which will be held April 7. The Caledonia village board unanimously approved putting the question on the ballot at a special board meeting on Wednesday, Jan. 21.

The final language of the question though — which is expected to ask voters if they want to pursue a separate school district, independent of the village of Racine Unified School District — will still need the blessing of the village board. That final vote will take place on Jan. 26. There is also a rush to get the referendum question phrased because the deadline to give the question to the county is 5 p.m. Tues, Jan. 27 to get it on the ballot in time for the spring election on April 7.

The purpose of the advisory referendum will allow the village board and state Legislators to gauge the public’s interest in forming the district so that they can move forward with the study to see what the village would need to do and what the cost would be to form the district.

If the advisory referendum passes on April 7, the village board will then need to decide on whether to spend $30,000 on updating a feasibility study that will check what the costs and tax implications are to forming an independent school district. The outcome would also be used to decide how much community support there is for changing the state law to allow Caledonia to pull out of the Racine Unified School District if residents choose to through a referendum.

Initially, the group pushing to form the district wanted to partner with Mount Pleasant and Sturtevant. But Mount Pleasant hasn’t moved forward with putting the issue on the referendum while Sturtevant expects to take a vote this week. But even so, Sturtevant’s school district would still be independent from Caledonia.

Caledonia village president Bob Bradley said he thought Mount Pleasant and Sturtevant would take part in helping to fund the study.

“But they (Sturtevant) are doing their own study,” Bradley said. “If we can’t combine forces and get a high school, we’re going to be starting by scratch on this…. so we’d be building our own high school? Amazing.”

Caledonia village trustee Jim Dobbs said he is uncomfortable making a financial commitment until he knows there is community support and wanted to have the referendum question include the $30,000 cost of the study. But village trustee Kevin Wanggaard said they are elected to make these types of decisions and wants to leave the $30k out of the referendum question.

“We’ve had two nights where residents have come out in full force in support of this issue,” Wanggaard said. “I think for us…we need to give these citizens a voice  to gauge their interest.”

Brian Dey, one of the organizers behind the group pushing for an independent Caledonia school district, agreed that $30,000 was a lot of money to spend on a study.

“But if the residents approve it, it gives the message to the village board and the state Legislators that they (the community) wants this,” Dey said.

But by no means is a potential divorce from Racine Unified a done deal. As it stands now, Racine Unified would need to give its blessing to Caledonia to separate from the district.The group behind forming the independent school district wants state Legislators to change the law to allow communities to separate from unified school districts if they choose to through a referendum.

Dey spoke to Rep. Robin Vos (R-Rochester), Sen. Van Wanggaard (R-Racine), and Rep. Tom Weatherston (R-Caledonia) in December about changing the law.

“He (Van) loves the concept, but he needs to know how much community support we have for this and he needs to know the numbers behind how much it costs and he wants us to get the study done,” Dey said. “I don’t see why they need a study. None of them disagree with the idea that the community should decide.”

So even if things go as planned, voters will likely need to make a decision on the issue again once the community has the full understanding of how much the costs could be to form a new district.

 

 

 

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Denise Lockwood has an extensive background in traditional and non-traditional media. She has written for Patch.com, the Milwaukee Business Journal, Milwaukee Magazine and the Kenosha News.