Referendum may be heading back into the spotlight in Monroe

BY Christopher Lang, Correspondent, @topherlang2 | Jun 15, 2018 | MonroeNow

MONROE – Now that Board of Education members have named an acting superintendent, the trustees can begin refocusing on a new referendum to address overcrowding in district schools, the trustees’ president said this week.

Kathy Kolupanowich’s comments came during an interview Thursday about the decision to go forward with appointing an acting superintendent instead of retaining Michael Kozak’s, whose contract expires on June 30.

While she would not comment on why the board opted against keeping Kozak, citing pending legal matters, she said now that the superintendent issue is somewhat resolved trustees and the administration can start to focus on other pressing concerns such as holding a new referendum. The trustees still have to determine their action plan for finding a new full-time superintendent, Kolupanowich said.

In March, Monroe residents narrowly rejected a $68.8 million plan to build a second middle school to help alleviate overcrowding. The defeat came as a surprise to education officials, who had held multiple meetings, conducted local TV spots and distributed print and digital information to residents conveying the need to build a new school.

What the board, and soon-to-be-acting Superintendent Richard Goodall, will have to determine in the coming weeks is if they want to resubmit the original $68.8 million plan to voters, which could happen as early as October, Kolupanowich said, or craft a new proposal.

If the board and administration went with a new proposal, she projected that a question could be on the ballot in early 2019.

“If we’re looking to change it, the referendum needs to go to the state for approval, which takes approximately six months,” Kolupanowich said. “At this point we probably won’t have anything on the ballot before next January or March in 2019.”

The state has specific months that a referendum vote can occur. Some coincide with election dates in April, May and November, but there are other months the public vote can happen.

But a long delay will likely increase the cost for whatever projects the district decides to undertake, and potentially increasing the chances for it to fail.

“I would have been happier if we passed the referendum in March, but at this point we don’t have a choice. The community has spoken,” Kolupanowich said. “If overcrowding gets worse, we are looking at more trailers. We are looking at maybe higher expenses for steel, because of increasing interest rates and tariffs.”

The district is already investing nearly $1 million to lease 10 trailers, mainly at the middle school for this fall, to address overcrowding. Should the district’s enrollment projections hold true, education leaders may have to increase that funding because it could take a couple years before a new school, if ever approved, is operational.

Since the referendum failed, the board has not addressed its next steps. The referendum steering committee has held some meetings, Kozak said previously. And in April, the district launched a survey targeting parents in the district to collect information about what perhaps lead to its defeat.

At a previous school board meeting, Kolupanowich said trustees have not addressed the referendum because of other pressing issues such as striking a new deal with the teachers’ union – at the same time they were also crafting an updated security policy that allows its in-house security team to carry a gun while patrolling the schools.

The second middle school is slated for land at 254 Applegarth Road, which was seized by the township government in late 2017.

Education officials have long maintained that enrollment will increase by 1,500 students in five years, adding more strain on capacity at the current middle school. They have also said that aside from a second middle school, they would also need to expand the high school and likely construct an additional elementary building.