March 8, 2008

Unified's referendum tour: Not a pretty sight...

Windows at Janes School...

The yellow school bus made its way around Racine Saturday morning, ignoring the snow, carrying not a busload of noisy kids but rather 21 adults shoehorned into seats definitely not designed for adult backsides.

From school to school it went -- first to Case High School, then Starbuck Middle School, then Walden III, then Janes Elementary. At each stop, district officials escorted their charges around the buildings, pointing out this and that: doors that let cold air in, and won't lock; outdated ventilation systems; roofs that leak; windows that rattle and look ready to fall apart; a concrete stairway with a big crack in the middle; a swimming pool that barely holds water; security systems about which the less said the better.

David Hazen, Racine Unified's chief financial officer, and a former school board member, led the tour, with Frank Jarosz, Unified's project manager for maintenance doing the heavy lifting when it came to explaining just what is broken, and what it would take to fix it. It was all part of the district's effort to educate the public about what it would spend the $16.5 million it hopes taxpayers will approve on April 1, a referendum for five years' worth of (mostly long overdue) maintenance projects for the districts 33 buildings comprising 3,200,000 sq. ft. of space.

The boiler room at Case HS...

How much it costs to maintain the district's schools is amazing -- although it shouldn't be, given that some buildings date from before the Civil War (Winslow, our oldest school, was built in 1856; Gilmore, our "newest," in 1973), and Unified has shorted maintenance funds for years, to avoid having to cut staff (and because half a dozen referenda providing maintenance funds were rejected by the taxpayers). Unified supplied those taking the tour with a checklist with all the projects it hopes to do: a fire alarm system at Wind Point ($130,099), roofing at Jefferson ($60,691), sidewalks at Schulte ($30,972), replace 40-year-old cracked asphalt at Giese's playground ($206,480), new seats and lighting in Case High School's theater, $318,000) ... and so it goes. Those are just a few of the first-year's expenditures; the list goes on -- and on --through five years' worth of new windows and doors, a replaced pool, paint, electrical upgrades, heating and ventilation repairs, millions for new roofs.

Jarosz, who's been on the job at Unified for 18 years, recalled how years ago -- in the early '90s -- he budgeted for the big stuff, of course, but he also had about $750,000 a year to spend on the myriad little repairs -- items costing less than $25,000, like Walden's cracked-down-the-middle front steps for example. No more; now everything must be budgeted years ahead. If the referendum passes, then Janes -- the district's year-'round school, open in the summer -- will have its air conditioning system rebuilt at a cost of $820,758, in 2012. If not, well ...

Broken concrete steps at Walden...

Hazen pointed out that the referendum will add just $34 a year to the tax bill of a $100,000 house. In year one. In years two through four, the additional cost would drop to $10 a year; in year five to $9. "Over the life of the referendum, the cost is four cents a day," Hazen said.

So was anybody convinced? The school bus carried 21 people on Saturday morning's tour -- but only seven were "civilians" -- neither working for the district, nor on the volunteer referendum advisory committee, nor media. As the bus pulled back into Case's parking lot after two hours of poking through boiler rooms, classrooms and chilly entryways, and peering at peeling paint, cracked concrete and twisted roof shingles, I asked the civilians on the bus how many were convinced of the need, and how many were not.

Six people raised their hands in support of the referendum. Only one man said no: Frank Morrison of the Racine Taxpayers Association insists the district has enough money for maintenance (actually, the amount uncommitted is just $232,813) and, a worse offense in Morrison's canon, is trying to hire another superintendent like the one who left last August. But on that bus, after touring the district's schools, he was the lone negative voice.

"Not bad," said Hazen, ever the accountant, doing the math in his head; "85 percent support."

If only.
-- --
Unified has put much information about the referendum on its website.

For example: here is a spreadsheet with all the maintenance projects the district hopes to fund from the five-year referendum, sorted by year and school.

Here is a list of previous referendum projects, by school, showing what the district spent $21 million repairing in recent years.

Here is a school tax calculator, showing exactly how much the referendum will cost you (after you plug in your home's assessed valuation).

Here is a fact sheet with lots of information about the district and the referendum. A VIDEO is here.


  1. Sorry the whole Hicks thing still has me voting NO!
    And as much as I like the Post I hope that RUSD is paying you well.
    The Post has not cover the whole scandle on Hicks and the coverup of mismanaging the funds they get now, and they want more??

    No! No! NO!

  2. I am amazed at the photo taken at the Janes School during the RUSD tour. If I were a homeowner, or even worse a landlord in the City of Racine, I would be immediately arrested, handcuffed and led to the local jail on charges of deliberately exposing children to chipped, lead based paint. Besides the fact that the maintainence personnel allowed this condition to develop, why is there a dual standard of enforcement by the Racine officials?
    As I indicated previously, I can locate quite easily, a number of defects around my home, that is in the assessed range of $300,000 to $360,000. Are the taxpayers of Racine to congratulate the RUSD board and administration with the blank check spending referendum once again? Scraping and painting a window could have taken a high school summer worker a couple of hours to rectify 10 years ago.

  3. How would you suggest we remedy the situation? Starve the maintenance budget at the expense of student welfare? That will really prove a point.

  4. Anonymous, the admin has been starving the maintenance budget to go into other areas.

    Layers of useless admin, millions on consultants, 3/4 million to get rid of PBCG. Cry me a river.

    We get shown a window that needs to be scraped and painted, horror of horrors. Scrape it and paint it. Tell the unions to quit their territorial pissing matches and get this stuff done. There are already plenty of man hours there for these sorts of projects.

    The thing is we the people don't think that the board has gotten the message yet. Quit waisting money on crap and spend what you already have more effectively.

    "Because we squandered it on other things" is not an excuse. Our schools are here to teach, we are trying to teach the board a lesson...


    Of course this magical tour of horrors would seek out the worst examples, come on over to Jerstead where they replaced all the windows in the last two years. Things must be scheduled and managed over the long-haul.

    This is just another money grab that will not teach the board a damned thing.

    Vote no.

  5. The question remains unanswered. I agree with constructive criticism, but along with constructive solutions. What do you consider a lesson learned? The lesson appears to be the same one that I learned when I graduated from this district. Our community is more concerned with politicizing the educational process than actually finding solutions to the same problems that have been plaguing it for the last 20 years.

  6. No, not at all.

    For the first time in 20 years the people in this community is trying to teach the board a lesson.

    Hopefully they'll get it this time.

    It is too early to open the checkbook.

    The district (much like state local and federal officials) are going to have to learn how to get by with what they have. Our economy is much too fragile right now to raise taxes.

  7. Right, our economy is so fragile that we can't handle $9-$34 a year trying to make a difference for these kids. They already think adults don't care about them - and we continue to prove them right. What a shame.
    If you don't want to pay the $ cause you are trying to prove a point, prove a point by doing something worthwhile instead of just moaning and groaning about the district.

  8. go to

    to see a video about the referendum

  9. I just watched the referendum video on the Racine Unified web site and let me tell you that it made me very angry. They admitted that they have not kept up with maintenance projects for the PAST 10 YEARS! I own a home and keep up with the needed maintenance projects of my property. Common sense tells you that preventive maintenance is the best practice.

    I went to Case High School many years ago and was appalled at cleanliness of that school when I was there for an adult education class. The students have drawn obscene things on the desks and walls, and you can not even tell that the walls were painted last summer.

    Lastly, I would like to know the amount of students that are open enrolled in other school districts or private school that Racine Unified is losing out on revenue. I know for a fact that many Racine Unified students are attending schools west of I-94 and in Kenosha.

    My vote is NO on this referendum and I hope many other people do as well. This is a 5 YEAR referendum. My taxes are high enough and there are enough homes in Racine in foreclosure that the home owners can not afford to pay useless taxes. The district needs to stop hiring consultants and do the job that they are supposed to do.

  10. *****BREAKING NEWS*****

    Speaking of schools, has anyone heard aboout a local Alderman's wife being suspended from Racine Unified for an incident involving an ED student?? C'mon Post reporters, get on this ASAP!!!

    *****BREAKING NEWS*****