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Our View: Still time for Pecatonica to bring in the public
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The Pecatonica school board Monday night approved a two-year recurring referendum for the April 1 election. The district will ask for $175,000 the first year and an additional $175,000 the second year. That $350,000 then will be levied each year thereafter.

While the district sought little public input before deciding on a referendum course, it can overcome that misstep by seeking the thoughts and opinions of the public between now and April 1.

District Administrator David Westhoff admitted the public participation in the referendum process has been, up to this point, scant.

"There was probably less public input than we feel the referendum will ultimately require," Westhoff said. "Those of us in public positions have not received the public input that we should have."

Public input on any public process is important, particularly for something as important as school referendums. Some districts shepherd that input process better than others.

The Monticello school district also is going to referendum in April. Despite announcing much sooner, as early as October, that the district would have to go to referendum, no decisions have been made on the dollar amount or the type of referendum.

The reason? The board has met multiple times in special meetings to discuss district needs and the referendum language. The district has two public forums scheduled for next week and in February. It likely will hear what the public has to say before finalizing referendum details.

Pecatonica would have been better served to have done it that way. It's better to develop that agreement about the district's needs first, rather than deciding how much money to seek and then telling residents why the extra funds are needed.

But Pecatonica's school district can't turn back the clock. Now that the board has finalized referendum language, it should share the information with as many district voters as possible.

From the Monroe school district, Pecatonica and others can see how a comprehensive public information campaign can benefit a referendum vote.

In Monroe, the district held three public informational meetings in five weeks. During the two months before the referendum, the district gave 19 community presentations to groups like Green County Farm Bureau and Kiwanis and Optimists clubs.

The district provided a wealth of information on its Web site about the referendum and had school tours to give district residents the chance to learn more about the schools and their programs.

All of the information paid off. Sixty-two percent of the more than 4,600 voters approved the referendum on its first try.

Of course, the public hearings in the referendum determination process greatly helped the referendum pass, too. They allowed for a period of public buy-in before it got close to the vote.

What can Pecatonica learn from the Monroe experiences? Educate your voters now. April 1 is less than three months away.

If done right, the district could celebrate a successful referendum. If not, it could be scrambling to figure out what to do next.