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Howard-Suamico continues sessions for referendum

By Ben Rodgers

SUAMICO – Although any potential referendum question wouldn’t be asked for 14 months, the Howard-Suamico school board is starting to collect data to influence any question(s) that could be asked to voters.

“It may look or feel different than previous work on referendum campaigns in that we’re starting the community engagement much earlier,” said Brian Nicol, director of communications.

At the Monday, Feb. 17, meeting, the board heard an update for the effort dubbed Strategy 2035, specifically about engaging district shareholders for feedback.

“Our goal in sharing these updates is to create engagement and gathering opportunities to support decision-making and operation evaluation,” Nicol said.

To better quantify and understand data, the district is using a program called Thoughtexchange, which Nicol said creates an “ongoing online conversation.”

The district wrapped up the Thoughtexchange sessions with students on Tuesday, Feb. 18.

It asked students what are some things the district should consider as it plans to improve and maintain facilities.

The students who participated in the sessions indicated they would like to see an improved parking lot, air conditioning and investments in technology.

“Students were highly engaged when we asked them to participate,” Nicol said.

To survey community members, the board agreed to listening sessions from 6-7 p.m. March 31 in the Bay View Middle School library, from 7-8 a.m. April 3 for coffee with the superintendent at Uncle Mike’s Bake Shoppe, and from 6-7 p.m. April 9 at the Bay Port High School union.

“I’m more excited about the data that is collected and hearing what the community has to say about forming the referendum than moving forward with the referendum,” said Vanessa Moran, board member.

For an update on the state and national levels, the board heard from consultant Joe Donovan, president of the Donovan Group.

Donovan said this April 7 there will be 59 referendum questions across the ballot for school districts. This is 12 percent of all districts in the state.

They range from a $95,000 recurring referendum in Waterford to an $87 million recurring referendum in Milwaukee.

“We’re seeing more and more referendum projects, and again April will be a very big month with 12 percent of school districts in the state going up,” he said.

On the national level, Donovan said there is a debate on school choice and specifically the voucher program, which Wisconsin was the first state to enact.

A talking point Donovan said he hears often is “failed government school.”

“I’ve been saying for as long as anyone will listen to me is the best thing we can do is talk about the great things that happen in public schools,” he said. “…To suggest they’re failing misses the mark. Maybe I’m naive, but I always like to go with positive messages.”

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