News, Waterford

WUHS board members weigh in on failed referendum

By Dave Fidlin

The third time was not a charm for Waterford Union High School officials as the most recent pair of referendum questions failed to garner communitywide support. In the first meeting since the results were tallied, School Board members shared their thoughts on the outcome.

WUHS presented different iterations of unsuccessful facilities-related referendum questions in 2022, 2023 and this year.

In this latest go-around, WUHS asked whether voters would support the district taking out $77.8 million general obligation bonds for a litany of school building and facility improvement projects in the first question.

The second question asked if voters would support WUHS taking out $14.16 million in general obligation bonds for an athletic facility improvement project. It would have included upgrades to a stadium and soccer field, construction of softball fields and restroom facility and parking, among other improvements.

Ultimately, 54% of WUHS voters who cast ballots in the Feb. 20 primary voted against the first question, and 61% voted against the second question.

At a meeting Feb. 26, WUHS School Board members shared a mixture of feelings on the outcome of the results.

“It’s disappointing, but we need to listen to our community,” board member Jeff Santaga said. “This school still does have some serious needs.”

Santaga’s comments underscored the board’s general approach to considering future referendums, based on the preliminary discussion that took place at the recent board meeting.

School Board President Michael Schoenfeld said future referendum questions are inevitable because of the high school’s short- and long-term needs for the 65-year-old high school building.

“Overall, we don’t have a choice,” Schoenfeld said. “In some way, shape or form, it’s coming back.”

WUHS board member Dennis Purtell frequently has criticized the state’s school funding formula as discussions of referendums in recent years have cropped up. He shared similar critiques at the recent board meeting.

Through a variety of factors – including levy limits and the state’s school funding formula – Purtell said WUHS today is operating on $3 million less than it was in 2009. Larger factors, such as inflation, have brought further challenges on the expense side of the ledger.

“That is a fact,” Purtell said. “It is not fiction.”

District officials in recent years have pointed to rising costs with labor and building materials and supplies as reasons to tackle facilities improvement projects sooner, rather than later.

“There is a 7% rise in construction costs,” Purtell said. “That is a fact, and there’s no reason to think that won’t change.”

While there are more questions than answers at this point as to what any future WUHS facilities referendum might look like, one certainty, going forward, is the community advisory committee that was assembled last year will continue this year.

CAC members presented the School Board with the two-part referendum question recommendation late last year.

“We will be listening and gathering as much information as we can,” Schoenfeld said.

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