Expert: Why local school referendums failed

ROCKTON (WIFR) -- Disappointing results for three school districts as voters say no to every referendum that would raise taxes to pay for school upgrades.

It’s been nearly a year since Hononegah's athletic dome collapsed in an ice storm. Now it's going to be even longer until a new facility is built.

"Right now they're crammed into every nook and cranny. They’re running in the hallways, it’s just really, really bad right now," Dave Kurlinkus, Hononegah School Board President, said.

Voters said no to a $44 million plan that would build a fieldhouse, upgrade classrooms, and expand the cafeteria.

"It was expensive and I appreciate that. I'm a taxpayer up there too and it’s tough to vote to raise your taxes," Kurlinkus said.

Hononegah isn't alone. Winnebago and Dixon schools also had failed referendums, not to mention cities and groups asking to raise taxes for other issues like roads and ambulance services.

"It’s not enough to say it’s a good thing to educate children so tax yourself. It’s a case that has to have numbers attached to it, and it’s a case that has to appeal to the direct interest of the voters," Bob Evans, a Political Science Professor at Rockford University, said.

Evans says it's going to be harder for schools to pass referendums as baby boomers get older and millennials have kids later in life.

"In some cities the percentage of parents with kids in the schools is well under 30 or 40 percent, so you have a small core who feels intensely the need to have better schools and higher taxes, but then you have a large pool of voters that just don't sense it," Evans explained.

As the districts now return to the drawing board students at Hononegah are preparing to spend another winter without extra space.

"We're going to have to decide as a board what plans and B and C are on this thing, whether or not it’s in the form or another referendum with revised projects," Kurlinkus said.

Winnebago School District Superintendent Scott Bloomquist says the district now plans to take out bonds for some of the necessary repairs to remove asbestos and get a new HVAC system. However, he says the district won't be able to pay for classroom upgrades to reduce class sizes.