Several Columbus School District residents voiced concern about the school’s facilities and the need for referendum funding to replace its aging buildings.
Speaking at the May 14 school board meeting at city hall, 11 residents, mostly parents of students in the district, said the time is ideal to push for another referendum. School referendums in Columbus failed in the spring of 2014 and 2013.
The 2013 referendum asked voters to help fund a new high school and the 2014 referendum requested the purchase of land for new school buildings.
Kate DuChateau, who has two children in the district, said Columbus could learn from past failures to see what it would take to pass a funding package.
“Previous referendums have failed, giving us excellent insight on how to construct a referendum that will pass,” DuChateau said. “Being that this process is long, complicated and costly, I would like to see the process start now. If we work together on this undertaking, we will succeed. Keep in mind a referendum is not just beneficial to our children but to the community as a whole.”
The push for a referendum appears to be the result of a social media groundswell started by district resident Becky LaPlante. LaPlante spoke passionately about her concerns with facilities and moving third-graders to the middle school, at the previous board meeting. While she didn’t speak May 14, LaPlante was in attendance and city council chambers were filled with concerned residents.
Karen Smith said she supports a referendum to help build the community. She believes new facilities will increase enrollment and grow Columbus’ tax base.
“We can build a community other families want to come to,” Smith said.
Lindsay Motl, a parent with three school-aged children in Columbus, said she was excited when the district started its Launching a Legacy initiative in 2016. However, Motl said she hasn’t seen a lot of action from the district to meet the initiative’s goals. But her children enjoy school and she praised Columbus teachers for their hard work.
“There are days when I want to leave the community but then I see the smiles on my kids’ faces,” Motl said. “My kids enjoy it here, but we need to make a change for our children.”
Motl said she has seen surrounding communities pass referendums for facility upgrades. Beaver Dam recently opened a new field house through referendum funding and is reconstructing its high school and Fall River passed a $7.8 million funding package in April.
A few of the speakers mentioned Columbus’ high property tax rate as a possible deterrent to passing referendum funding, but they believe change is needed. Jenny Denewellis said it’s embarrassing Columbus can’t hold home track meets (the district plans to renovate the track this summer). Denewellis said the high school, which is almost 60 years old, has small leaks in the roof and her children often complain classrooms are cold.
“We’re living in this,” Denewellis said. “They shouldn’t have to wear coats while they’re trying to learn in the classroom.”
Martha Rule said she appreciates the district working within tight budget constraints, but is glad to see support building to improve facilities. Many of the speakers said they’re willing to help form solutions and ignite support for a referendum. Sally Erdmann, who has three children in the district, said Columbus could raise funds through an endowment or private gift donors.
District residents recently completed a survey of Columbus schools. Board President Cindy Damm said the board will review results May 31 and a public unveiling will take place June 18 at a Launching Forward event. Janel DeZarn, business services director, said the survey had 530 responses, exceeding the district’s expectations.
“The community devoted many hours to this,” DeZarn said. “As you can see, we have passionate people in this district and they were very forthcoming with their opinions.”
Damm said any district stakeholder in Columbus, including business owners, can attend the Launch Forward event June 18 at the high school.