Referendum key to the future of an area school district - WQOW TV: Eau Claire, WI NEWS18 News, Weather, and Sports

Referendum key to the future of an area school district


Holcombe (WQOW) - In most small communities, the school is the lifeblood.  Right now, the future of one school district is up in the air. 

A referendum is on the ballot in the Lake Holcombe School District in April. If it fails, there are four options the school board will consider, one of those is shutting the doors. No decision has been made about which path to take.

First and foremost, the district is hoping voters approve the referendum so it doesn't have to decide whether to dissolve.

Tom Goulet, the Lake Holcombe District Administrator, says, "We are what we call a lake district."

Depending on who you ask, the core of the Holcombe community lies in one of two places. It's school, or its lake. "The property value is higher than in other districts because of the lake," says Goulet.

Property values affect how much state aid goes to school districts. Goulet says, "The way that the system is set up right now, we get less money than other districts who do not have a lake."

With fewer students and less state aid, the district is struggling to make ends meet.  Because of that, one option is dissolving the district. "Which would mean that they would have to break the district up. That has never been talked about before, but because of where we are in terms of where we are, it's been put on the table,"says Goulet.

Community member, Bill Stimeling, says, "I think it would be, probably, a real tragedy for a small community."

The district is going to referendum in April. "We're eating into our fund balance, which is our total assets. And if we don't get the referendum then what will happen is that fund balance will be eaten up," says Goulet.

The district is asking for $675,000 dollars a year, for the next three years.

Goulet says, "Anything less than what we're asking for right now, is not going to solve the problem. I think the thing of it is, is that there's an option out there with the referendum to solve the problem and to make this school operate.  It's just a matter of getting that idea across and making sure everybody understands that."

If the referendum fails, there are four options which could be considered: another referendum, merging with another school district or program cuts. "We are at the bear bones. To cut anymore staff people, means we have to cut programs. And the board is not willing to cut anymore programs."

The fourth option would be shutting down. "The district would be broken up in such a way that it could go to all the districts around us.  We touch New Auburn, I think we touch Bruce, we touch Ladysmith, we touch Gilman and we touch Cornell," Goulet explains. 

"What people don't understand is that you have an identity and all the sudden that identity just kind of floats away and disappears," says Goulet.

WQOW News 18 spoke with several members of the community Friday. One concern a local business owner and parent expressed was the potential for people to move away, and for businesses to fail as a result of that.

Again, no decision has been made. April second is the spring election.  In 2011, voters rejected two referendum questions, including one for operational costs.

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