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Editorial: Now's the time to get behind school board referendum

In our Jan. 13 edition, we published a story on Worthington Mayor Mike Kuhle’s support for the $68 million Independent School District 518 referendum, which will be decided upon Feb. 13. In the article, Kuhle also condemned the tactics of Worthington Citizens for Progress, which has been leading the charge to defeat the measure just as it did — successfully, by a nearly 2-1 margin — in November 2016. “This needs to a be a personal decision that should be based on the facts, not on intimidation and the dividing of our community,” we quoted Kuhle as saying.

The mayor couldn’t be much more on target here. The relentless negativity and criticism of school board members and administrators, as well as referendum supporters in general, has gone on long enough. In the meantime, we compliment Kuhle on his willingness to show leadership — while agreeing with him that this bond referendum deserves our community’s support.

The fact that The Globe endorses the new referendum probably isn’t a great surprise to the “yes” or “no” sides. Anyone who is a longtime reader of this newspaper is likely aware that we have consistently been a strong supporter of our school district. We even supported what proved to be a roundly unpopular (with voters, anyway) $79 million referendum in 2016. Why? Because, as Kuhle also noted in our Saturday story, strong school systems are consistently cited as a top reason for individuals to move to a community, or for businesses to develop there. Not allowing our schools to grow, in turn, sharply increases the risk of our community stagnating — or worse. That’s why the Worthington Regional Economic Development Corp. passed a resolution in support of this referendum.

By now, there should be no question as to whether DIstrict 518 needs additional space. If one thinks it acceptable to move from classroom to classroom (or, in some cases, a converted closet) with their supplies on carts — just one of a myriad of examples we can pick out — then that mind’s not ever going to be changed. That leaves the $68 million cost as the real question mark, and to no big surprise it’s been a serious source of contention between referendum supporters and naysayers.

While some will certainly disagree, it’s unfair to argue that the district hasn’t been transparent when it comes to presenting options to address its growth to the public. A number of meetings were hosted and plenty of feedback gathered along the way to arrival at this latest referendum proposal: $68 million to build a new grades 9-12 high school (with the current high school becoming home to grades 6-8, the current middle school housing grades 3-5, and Prairie Elementary hosting K-through-grade two students as well as Early Childhood and Family Education). The new referendum is $11 million less expensive than the 2016 version and does not include a stadium, athletic fields or other related expenses. Multiple options were presented along the way, and the district put forward its referendum based not on the whims of school board members, but on what the board heard from those in the community,

Meanwhile, the Worthington Citizens for Progress group, which continues to employ vehemently anti-public school crusader Paul Dorr as its consultant, has consistently complained about the wasteful nature of the referendum while failing to put forward a reasonable alternative. But its opposition has by no means stopped there. A social media campaign that not-so-subtly encouraged residents to boycott restaurants handing out information about the Feb. 13 vote was, quite frankly, out of line. How could an organization billing themselves as “for progress” think it’s OK to tell people where they should eat based solely on its agenda? Do they think it’s perfectly OK to have pro-referendum and anti-referendum dining establishments? And what kind of slippery slope gets traveled down from there?

We fully comprehend that no one wants to pay higher taxes. It should also be understood, however, that defeat of this referendum will have some degree of negative impact on our community’s children. That impact can only hurt — not help — Worthington as a whole. For that reason, we urge voters to look toward their future — and their children’s future — by voting yes.

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