Batavia school board to vote on trying $140 million referendum again

The Batavia school board will decide next week whether to ask residents, again, for permission to borrow $140 million for building projects.

The board has scheduled a special meeting for 6 p.m. Jan. 10 at the Rosalie Jones Administration Center, 335 W. Wilson St.

The proposed referendum question says the money would be spent on replacing H.C. Storm and Louise White elementary schools, plus repairs, maintenance and security work at other schools.

It's the same proposal that voters narrowly rejected on Nov. 8. There were 7,060 "no" votes and 7,036 "yes" votes.

The district conducted a survey after the failure, asking people why they thought the request was rejected. About 1,700 people responded, according to a report given at a Dec. 20 board meeting.

The No. 1 reason cited was that people believed property taxes would increase too much. Secondly, people don't trust the district's leaders with additional money, according to the survey. "Didn't like the demolition" of the two schools was the third-highest reason given.

District officials had said that property taxes would not increase, as they planned to have the new debt replace debt that is due to be paid off in 2025. Currently, a house with a fair market value of $350,000, assuming it has a homestead exemption, pays about $736 a year for that debt. However, the proposition did not bind the school district to a timetable - it could have borrowed the money immediately.

About 56% of the respondents said the district should try again in April.

According to a district analysis of the comments attached to the surveys, it appeared many people didn't know about the district's plan; didn't know or were not convinced of the district's rationale for rebuilding Storm and White schools; mistrusted leadership; may have voted out of revenge over unrelated issues, including diversity, equity, staff climate and staff pay; and that it was not clear that staff understood or supported the plan.

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