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The Racine Unified School District sent home letters with students Thursday informing parents about the implications of Caledonia and Sturtevant pulling out of the Racine Unified School District. The move irked a number of parents, who support the independent school district concept. The letter outlined “what voters should know” about what would happen if Caledonia and Sturtevant form independent school districts if an advisory referendum passes April 7. The purpose of the advisory referendum would allow the Caledonia and Sturtevant village boards to gauge the public’s interest in moving forward with a feasibility study. Organizers are also trying to get the law changed for how unified school districts are dissolved; moving to a resident-driving binding referendum instead of leaving the final vote to the unified district’s school board. Legislators have said they need to see support from residents, and the advisory referendums are a major step in that direction. Marc Duff, chief financial officer for Racine Unified, said that if Caledonia and Sturtevant form their own school districts it would be like “a big divorce.” “We would need to figure out what percentage of debt and what percent of assets each would get,” he said. “The school board is of the mindset that we can do this together to make our school district work for everybody and we’re moving in a good direction.” However, the Racine Unified School District letter cited a memo from the Legislative Fiscal Bureau, which said that if the two communities formed their own school districts, residents could see “a property tax increase of at least 10 percent.” “That’s at least a $200 annual property tax increase for a $200,000 home,” according to the letter. “Taxes would further increase for additional students, construction of schools (like a high school) and other needed facility improvements.” The letter also highlighted how the independent school districts would need to buy books, hire staff, equipment, curriculum, offer transportation and special education program. Those expenses “are expensive and duplicate efforts already in place in RUSD,” the letter stated. The letter then encouraged parents to vote on April 7. Rep. Cory Mason (D-Racine) asked the Legislative Fiscal Bureau questions and the district felt it was important to share the information, Duff said “The District felt the information was not being shared, and someone has to do it,” Duff said. “There are many different issues. The impact of this would not just impact Racine, Mount Pleasant, and Caledonia; but also Union Grove, Oak Creek and some other area communities. We have a lot of open enrollment kids… This changes the funding dynamic.” But Chris Larsen, a trustee for the Village of Sturtevant, said he doesn’t trust the Legislative Fiscal Bureau’s numbers because the memo doesn’t take into consideration the current fiscal conditions in Caledonia or Sturtevant. “I also think it’s unethical for the district to use our children to peddle propaganda,” Larsen said. “I’m upset that they are citing data for something that doesn’t exist yet. And all we are asking in this referendum is the chance for residents’ voices to be heard, so the issue can be studied. For them to throw around financial numbers to scare residents, frankly, I have a problem with that.” Ed Willing, Caledonia village trustee and member of the group wanting to form an independent school district in Caledonia, said he it was sad that Racine Unified sent home the letter, which he called a “passive, 3 page ‘report.'”
Willing also questioned why the district pointed out the $200 tax increase, which he said would be temporary. “$16 more per month for a brand new High School, district, local teachers, locally elected leaders,” Willing wrote on Facebook. “I’ll TAKE IT! What’s unfortunate for them is their mistake in assuming that Caledonia would spend the exact same amount per student that Racine does… Every other comparable village/city with their own district spends 5-10% less than RUSD. And they know this.”

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In addition to our education features, we’ll be kicking off a series of stories highlighting how parents, students, and educators are adapting to the impact of COVID-19 on education. If this is important to you, please consider donating to our education reporting fund. https://business.facebook.com/donate/1846323118855149/3262802717172659/

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.