The Waunakee school board has decided to postpone its referendum planning until late summer, realigning work with a timeline which would conclude in an April 2021 vote.
The decision came at a May 11 board meeting, where members discussed their timeline options.
Director Mark Hetzel motioned that the board begin by conveying its support for a referendum, before addressing the specific options related to planning and the date on which to hold a vote.
“I’m not certain that we’re going to get unanimity on when to have it,” Hetzel said. “But it might be worthwhile to have a vote that would reflect our support for the referendum, prior to voting on the timeframe of going forward with it.”
The motion received majority support, in a 6-1 vote with Jack Heinemann casting the only dissenting vote.
Superintendent Randy Guttenberg then presented board members with options for their timeline, which he narrowed down to postponing referendum planning or moving forward with a survey.
“Those are really your two options,” Guttenberg said. “Do you hit pause right now, or do you go ahead with the survey and then utilize that as a piece of information that you would utilize as part of your next decision?”
Treasurer Jack Heinemann argued that the board should postpone planning efforts until fall.
“I would submit that we hit the pause button,” Heinemann said. “We’re going to have a lot more information in the coming months to say how we’ll open up schools. We’re going to get more direction. And I think we’re going to have better information if we postpone the survey.”
Hetzel agreed, noting that conducting a survey in October or November could allow time for the community workshop that the school district had originally scheduled for March.
He pointed out that the meeting would result in feedback that might strengthen their survey.
“The suggestion that we have community listening sessions to help shape the survey is very appealing,” Hetzel said. “If we wait until fall and have the community workshop in September, preceding the survey, I think that gives us a strong survey instrument.”
Vice president Mike Brandt expressed concern that postponing the referendum until spring would result in fewer residents voting on the resolutions, due to the nature of election turnouts.
He cited numbers from prior elections in the Village of Waunakee, which reflected voter trends.
“There’s a dramatic drop-off in turnout and votes between a presidential election in November and the following April election,” Brandt said. “There were about 8000 votes in the 2016 fall election, compared to about 1400 votes in the next election four and half months later.”
President Dave Boetcher echoed that concern, adding that he always was in favor of asking more people their opinion opposed to less.
Board members asked Guttenberg about the remaining work required to put forth a survey.
“It has to have the componentry pieces of all the different options that we vetted out,” Guttenberg said. “It needs to address what those pieces would look like, so that we have some direction on how to winnow down the options that we’re going to move forward with.”
The superintendent estimated that the survey would take weeks to finish, noting that it would then need to be reviewed by the board before being launched to the community.
Heinemann motioned that the board not proceed with the survey.
“I want the administration to be laser-focused on educating our kids and moving them forward,” Heinemann said. “Push the survey off until a more reliable time when we can actually pull together information and educate the public. We’ll have more information to move forward.”
The motion passed by a 5-2 vote.
Hetzel motioned that the board proceed with planning a planning timeline that resulted in an April 2021 referendum, with the community workshop taking place in September.
The motion passed by majority vote.