The G-E-T School board voted Monday night to continue with the $5 million project as planned, following a failed attempt to force the issue to referendum by the public.
A petition aimed at getting a referendum question on an upcoming ballot in the Galesville-Ettrick-Trempealeau school district is being ruled "non-sufficient."
As we've reported, a group of community members began circulating a petition following the April 6 school board meeting in which the school board voted to pass a resolution that would allow up to $6 million to be spent on improvements to athletic facilities.
The petition was turned into the district on Friday with 1,082 signatures. According to state law, 733 valid, verified signatures are required to legally obligate the school board to put the issue to referendum.
However, after reviewing the petition with the district's legal advisor, Superintendent Aaron Engel said the petition has been ruled insufficient due to several violations of state statutes.
"The petition did not include, for most signatures, a legibly printed name in a space provided next to his or her signature per state statute 8.40(1)," he said. "Signatures were invalidated due to the circulator signing and dating before the signer, and all petition sheets were invalid because the statement at the bottom that indicates that a qualified circulator was certifying the sheets was incomplete per state statute 8.40(2)."
Engel said around 50 people attended Monday night's meeting, with about 25 choosing to speak.
"Most everyone who spoke is a supporter of improved athletic facilities, but some wanted the school board hear their voice and know they did not like how the board was using this authority to make the decision."
Following public comment, the board voted 7 to 1 in favor of moving forward with the project as planned.
Engel said he was approached by several community members about wanting to start a petition.
"I advised them to get an attorney so they could be sure they got the required legal document," he said. To his knowledge, the petitioners did not seek the help of an attorney.
"If we had waited to go to referendum, even in a year's time, with increased building costs and interest rates climbing, it would have cost $500,000 or $1,000,000 more," he said. "The board wanted to act in a fiscally responsible way all while taking responsibility for the choice to move forward with the project."
Brian Weber is an attorney for Johns, Flaherty and Collins Law Office and said technicalities in these kinds of situations are not uncommon.
"There's lots of situations where people want to challenge something the local board is doing and they'll try to do the petition process," he said. "There are a lot of technical requirements that are easy to miss for someone not trained in it."
Since Act 10, changes to state statutes at the Department of Public Instruction have occurred. Weber said it's important to know the finer details of the statutes before pursuing a petition.
The district will break ground on the $5 million project on May 22. The synthetic turf field is supposed to be completed by the Redhawks second home game of the upcoming season.