DeKalb County referendum to upgrade school facilities fails

Local News

DeKalb County School Officials were hoping to upgrade and renovate three schools but a referendum did not pass Tuesday.

The DeKalb County Central Schools Referendum failed, only reaching 42% of the vote out of 4,420 votes. The upgrades and renovations were for James R. Watson Elementary School, DeKalb Middle School and DeKalb High School.

“My first thoughts were ‘very disappointing,'” said Superintendent Steve Teders. “Certainly a lot of effort, a lot of energy went into the facilities upgrade. It was really a three year process to get to where were at last night.”

He had been cautiously optimistic.

“I was surprised by the separation between the yes and the no,” he said. “I’m not sure how else to think about the number. I thought it would be much closer than that.”

The referendum included building a larger cafeteria for the elementary school, installing lighting and flooring at the middle school and replacing the boilers at the high school. It also included adding new sidewalks and athletic improvements to the schools.

In total, the district was seeking a $37.6 million bond issuance.

Many voters weren’t supportive of everything the district was asking for, such as a new multipurpose fieldhouse. 

“With so many things in the project, people agreed with some and others felt there were wants and not necessarily needs for the district,” Teders explained. 

He said many voters thought there was too much money going towards athletics. The new fieldhouse wasn’t just for for sports, but also for marching band, gym and science classes, and extracuricular clubs.

Many voters also feared raised taxes. Teders says only 15 percent of property owners in the area would have seen an increase since the referendum had a debt service tax rate as neutral. 

At this point the district has no plans. It’s back to the drawing board.

“We certainly as a district need to push the pause button, kind of stop, evaluate where we’re at and consider what the next steps are going to be,” Teders concluded.

He said district leadership is still determined to get the boilers replaced soon. He doesn’t believe they can survive another winter.

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