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James Buchanan High School renovations voted down

September 10, 2008|By DON AINES

MERCERSBURG, Pa. -- The residents of the Tuscarora School District voted overwhelmingly in Tuesday's special election to defeat a referendum to spend $35 million to renovate and expand James Buchanan High School, leaving the board to consider other options for the building's future.

"We have things that we need to fix," Board President Jane Rice said Tuesday night after the results were known. That includes essentials such as the water and heating systems, she said.

The referendum was defeated by a vote of 3,725 to 1,418, or 72.4 percent to 27.6 percent, according to complete, but unofficial results from the Franklin County Election Board. The turnout was more than 49 percent of the 10,443 registered voters in the school district's 13 precincts.

In some precincts, such as Montgomery Township 2 and 3 and Peters Township 2, the no votes ran higher than 80 percent.

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The district proposed raising taxes 4.9 mills over each of the next three years to pay the debt service on the $35 million project, which would have raised the average taxpayer's property taxes about $269, Business Manager Rick Kerr said.

"If they're going to put our taxes up so much every year, how are we going to earn the money to pay them?" said a Welsh Run, Pa., woman who declined to give her name. The woman said she and her husband are retired.

"It's just not a good time to be doing this," her husband said.

"It's reality," the woman said. "We have to look out for ourselves."

"We just have to see what we can do within the budgeting restraints and that it doesn't hurt the kids' education, which is going to be hard," Rice said.

The board and administration will go back to the drawing board and attempt to come up with a plan more acceptable to district residents, Rice said.

By law, the district cannot place another referendum before voters for at least 155 days, Kerr said.

"I'm proud the community came out to vote," Rice said.

"It's democracy in action, and the good thing is the citizens are now interested in the school district," Kerr said. While voters rejected the $35 million plan, he said many residents realize the need to do something to the 38-year-old school, and a different plan might fare better with voters, he said.

"The district needs time to heal before we even think about what to do next," board member Clifford Smith said.

Late Sunday, the Tuscarora district's teachers union and the school board reached a tentative agreement on a contract, ending a teachers strike that delayed the start of school by a week.

Warren Township residents Gerald Berney, who has a child in the school system, and Ron Stevens, a grandfather, looked over the posted results Tuesday night in the county's Administrative Annex.

"I voted no. I think my wife voted yes," Berney said. One reason he voted against the referendum was that the district did not present different options for the project to the community.

"I voted yes. I don't like taxes better than anyone else, but I have three grandkids in school," Stevens said. "I don't want them cheated out of something we all had."

While on different sides of the vote, there was no rancor between them.

"That's why we vote," Stevens said.

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