The results of the referendum that would bring $1 billion over 30 years to the Racine Unified School District — and allow the district to revamp buildings dating back to the Civil War — came down to just five votes.
On April 7, 2020, voters approved the referendum by this impossibly thin margin. Little more than two weeks later, observers gathered in Festival Hall and held their collective breath as they watched the recount of 33,315 ballots.
Racine Unified School Board president Brian O’Connell said it felt like watching the final seconds of a championship. After six rounds of ballot-counting, the results were final: The referendum had passed.
It was a hard-fought campaign for the referendum, O’Connell recalled, one that met staunch opposition from HOT (Honest, Open and Transparent) Government, the same group that would later challenge the five-vote victory, appealing all the way to the state Supreme Court.
School officials are awaiting a final verdict from the high court before they break ground on the full slate of projects the referendum money would fund.
Despite its hefty $1 billion price tag, the district says the measure is not projected to increase the property tax rate — although any increase in assessed value will raise individual tax bills.
For now, referendum advocates in Racine applaud increased tax dollars that will allow the district to “right-size” by closing under-enrolled schools, refurbishing and expanding others, and adding new technology, including a science, technology, engineering, arts and math school.
O’Connell said there was no other way to raise the money.
“I think that’s why you see so many school districts, big and small, urban and rural, going to referendum,” he said. “If you find a school district that’s been able to raise money without going to referendum, please let me know.”