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White Lake school district voters being asked referendum questions
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Voters in the White Lake district are being asked to ante up to cover school operations.

A referendum question that will be decided Tuesday asks district taxpayers for $250,000 annually above state-imposed revenue limits over the next three years to maintain existing programs.

The referendum dollars will replace a $200,000, three-year revenue cap override approved in April, 2011 that is expiring this year. It continues a tradition in the district, which has been operating with revenue-limit exemptions for 13 years.

“It’s a common thing, you need referendums to keep things going,” Patty Wahleithner, a community member who supports the plan, said.

Wahleithner, Melissa Lambert and board president Scott Popelka are among those in the community pushing hard for a “yes” by the taxpayers.

“What would happen if this fails, and eventually we didn’t have a school?” Lambert said. “You need kids to keep the town going.”

Popelka said that even with a successful referendum, the district will still be forced to make cuts in programs to keep the budget in balance.

But without the referendum, the future is far more dire.

“We would definitely have to cut something,” Popelka said, suggesting entire programs would be affected. “There is only so much we can do. We have to maintain the schools. I just don’t want to see things go backwards.”

Lambert said that she doesn’t want to see the quality of education in the small district, where she graduated and where her two children will attend school, decline.

“Right now, you can go to White Lake and succeed,” she said. “Without the referendum, it will reduce the quality of education that we are trying to bring up.”

The cost is estimated at 95 cents per $1,000 of equalized valuation. That means that the owner of a $100,000 home could expect to see taxes for the school increase by $95 if the plan is successful. Twenty-nine cents of that increase is the additional $50,000 being sought. The remaining 66 cents is due to other factors, including increased enrollments that are allowing the district to spend more under state-imposed limits and state aid payments that are declining 15 percent. That’s forcing more of the costs on local taxpayers.

White Lake school district residents currently pay $11.48 per $1,000 of valuation. If the plan succeeds, the rate will climb to $12.43. If it fails, that amount would fall to $10.92.

“I’d rather pay that money here than pay it somewhere else,” Wahleithner said. “It’s necessary to continue to pay for the students in school here now.”

Popelka said that even with belt-tightening, costs continue to rise, and state aid payments continue to remain static or fall.

“Every year that aid has been decreasing while our fixed costs are rising,” he said. “We have to pass a referendum simply to come up with the money needed to keep operating.”

“We don’t have a lot of places to cut,” Lambert added. “We have minimal offerings already.”

The district floated its first successful revenue-limit exemption in 2001, with voters approving them since. The amounts have ranged from $200,000 to $250,000 annually for three to five years.

Popelka noted that taxpayers have stepped up time and time again to ensure a good education at White Lake, pointing to the district’s referendum that included to construct a new recreation center that brought out unprecedented community support and won the district’s accolades on a national basis.

“The community took pride in the ownership of that facility,” he said. “Other districts couldn’t believe a community would do that. The people here support what they have and want to keep it.”

The trio added that they are confident of that support again on Tuesday

“It’s like a family here,” Wahleithner said. “Everyone looks out for each other and protects one another.”

“We all want to move forward,” Popelka said. “We don’t want to move backwards.”


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From left, Patty Wahleithner, Scott Popelka and Melissa Lambert are supporting White Lake School’s spending referendum on Tuesday. They are standing in front of a poster with pictures of students in the “White Lake Family.”
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