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Onalaska superintendent remembers dark times after referendum failure in 2002

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Voters absolutely have the option to say no to the upcoming referendum in the Onalaska School District to go above revenue limits to pay operating expenses.

A survey, however, that the school district commissioned, suggests they won’t, and it’s clear Onalaska superintendent Fran Finco hopes that’s the case, because he was around the first time voters turned down a similar referendum, 16 years ago.

The new five-year, $10 million measure is more than twice as big as that one that failed in 2002, in which Finco described as pretty bleak.

A couple dozen teachers lost jobs back then, said Finco, who was the one handing out pink slips to 27 employees — mostly teachers — after voters turned down that referendum and the school board cut more than $1 million.

“So, it was like Black Friday,” Finco said. “If you walked around the building that day, it was like Black Friday.”

And he doesn’t mean, “Black Friday” in the “let’s go shopping after eating too much turkey” kind of way, either.

“We cut elementary foreign language,” Finco said Tuesday afternoon on WIZM. “We cut elementary health instruction by a health teacher. We cut elementary orchestra and band. We cut programs at the high school.”

Finco’s hoping to avoid something much worse this go around. A failure this November at the polls means $2.6 million in cuts the school district would have to make to programs and staff.

“You’re talking about taking things away from kids,” Finco said. “You’re talking about larger class sizes. You’re talking about fewer opportunities for kids inside the classroom and outside the classroom.”

Under the referendum, a yes vote would mean no increase in the tax rate for property owners. A no vote would mean a savings of $135 for each $100,000 of property value.

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