School spending: Racine voters to cast ballots on $128 million referendum

RACINE (WITI) -- Voters in Racine will have the chance to check "yes" or "no" on a referendum that would give the school district there more than $8 million a year for 15 years.

The buildings of the Racine Unified School District have deep roots. The oldest of them trace their beginnings back before both World Wars, back before the Titanic sank, all the way to before Abraham Lincoln was president. As with anything old, eventually that age starts to show.

The school district's superintendent says a cap on revenue in recent years has meant officials have had to defer maintenance on buildings to pay for teachers and instructional resources.

"Here we are in a situation where that's accumulated. And you know, if you have a roof that's got a small leak one year, in five years it's a big leak. And in ten years, it's the whole roof -- and that's where we are," said Dr. Lolli Haws, Superintendent for Racine Unified School District.

That's why officials are now asking Racine voters to approve a referendum this election day that would allow the district to raise $8.5 million a year for 15 years -- in total nearly $128 million. FOX6 News is told the funds would go towards building maintenance, rebuilding some structures too costly to repair and improving technology.

Thanks to some incoming state funds, the superintendent says even if the referendum passes, taxes would go down.

"Our taxes will actually go down 37 cents for every $1,000 of assessed property. So that's a $37 decrease in taxes for a $100,000 house," said Haws.

But some say there's too much uncertainty about the district's future to approve this plan now. There's even talk the district could fracture into several smaller groups in the next few years.

"Which would leave an entirely different dynamic and entirely different number of buildings that we would need to repair and work on," said Ken Brown of the Racine Taxpayers Association.

Brown says they're aren't opposed to fixing up the district's buildings -- they'd just like to see a plan that calls for less money over a shorter term -- like three to five years instead.

"This doesn't seem like a good alternative for us right now. 15 years is not a referendum, that's like a sentence," said Brown.

Voters will get to decide which side they agree with on Tuesday.

The Racine Taxpayers Association says it would like more details on how the money will be spent.

Meanwhile, the district's superintendent says funds will be needed to do the work either now or later -- but they're not going away.