Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Chris Vetter

Chippewa Falls Schools referendum had widespread support across the district's boundaries

The Chippewa Falls school district’s $65 million referendum passed Tuesday with about 53 percent support from the general public — about 18 months after a fairly identical proposal was defeated.

A quick examination of the election results show the proposal had fairly widespread support across the vast boundaries of the school district, and wasn’t just carried by the residents who live closest to the new elementary school.

The town of Anson led the way in supporting the measure, with 56.9 percent voting for it — 257 yes votes of 451.

The city of Chippewa Falls was right behind, with 56.7 percent of voters casting their support of the referendum, with 1,150 yes votes to 877 no votes.

The town of Lafayette — where the new $22 million Stillson Elementary School will be built — supported the measure with 55.6 percent approval.

Combining the town of Hallie and village of Lake Hallie, those residents were 53.3 percent in support of the measure.

So, who cast their votes against it? Eagle Point residents gave just 270 of 605 votes toward it — a rate of 44.6 percent.

The three towns west of Chippewa Falls — Tilden, Howard and Wheaton — cast 306 yes votes combined to just 403 against it — for a rate of 43 percent. I can only guess that because they live the farthest away from the Stillson school and don’t have children attending that building, is the main reason it failed to gather approval in those towns.

Keep in mind, while the new Stillson Elementary is the most expensive part of the referendum, about two-thirds of the overall money is going to things like remodeling the middle school or adding new science, math and technology classrooms at the high school.

There were two referendum questions that failed in November 2016. One asked voters to approve $61.2 million, but that included $600,000 to purchase land for a future, new high school. Board members and school staff generally believe, in hindsight, that was a mistake — it should have been on the second question, asking the public to approve $98 million for a new high school.

It was hard to gauge how this referendum was going to turn out; 18 months ago, there were letters to area newspapers both for and against the referendum. There just seemed to be more talk about it as I went through town. This spring, there wasn’t much conversation about it — I think people had made up their minds and just wanted to vote and be done with it.

With the referendum now passed, the district can begin the design stage, which should go into the fall, with construction occurring in 2019.

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