Though it didn’t appear on the agenda, the failed referendum vote was the topic of much discussion at the Liverpool Central School District Board of Education meeting Monday March 10. It was the first board meeting since the Feb. 27 vote.
Superintendent Jan Matousek expressed dismay that the vote did not pass.
“The board and the administration are obviously disappointed that the 2008 capital improvement project was defeated,” Matousek said. “Every effort was made to provide information to the community regarding the different aspects of the referendum.”
Matousek defended the district’s decision to bundle the projects, a move many speculated caused the vote to fail.
“As each part of this referendum addressed an important educational purpose, we did not believe it would be in the best interest of our students or our community to have separate votes for each of the major portions of the project,” she said. “The potential to divide the community or to pit one group against another was too great.”
Board President Mark Lawson echoed Matousek’s comments.
“The exit polls and the accumulation of remarks that I have heard from dozens, maybe hundreds, of people since the referendum vote clearly indicate that if we had split this up into separate propositions, everything would have been defeated, probably by bigger margins than the vote itself,” Lawson said. “You’ll hear one person say in one part of town, ‘Gosh, if you’d split it up, I would have voted for the stadium.’ Another person in another part of town would say, ‘If you’d split it up, I would have voted for those schools.’ Somebody else would say, ‘If you’d split it up, I would have voted for the performing arts center.’ So there really was not a broad consensus for any part of that project. We were hoping we could bring all of those segments of the community together by putting it together.”
Lawson said the only consensus was among those who objected to the tax increase.
“A lot of people were more concerned with rising property taxes than anything else,” he said. “A larger group did not want to see a significant rise in their property taxes, and they were going to vote ‘no’ regardless of what we asked for.”
Several board members complained that “bad press” had hurt the effort to pass the capital project referendum. Mike Murphy pointed to the article that appeared on the front of The Post-Standard Friday Feb. 22 detailing the money the district has spent on a lawsuit filed by George Mangicaro and Bonnie Ladd.
“I just thought it was very coincidental that they felt the need to publish that right before our vote,” Murphy said.
Donna Marsh O’Connor
“Whether it’s unfortunate, whether it’s coincidence, whether the times are just working against us, we got some really troubling press coverage at the same time we were trying to put forward an amazing referendum that even in bright times would have sounded large,” O’Connor said. “These renovations are necessary to our district, and we all know that. I hope the tide turns a little bit. We don’t want positive coverage — we want fair coverage.”
O’Connor pointed out that, since the stadium renovations were part of the failed referendum, the district will now have to pay to bus athletes to other stadiums.
Now, the board and the administration will sit down with the district’s architects to come up with a new plan.
“[We will give] careful consideration to which aspects of the overall project are the most critical and how the cost of the project could potentially be streamlined without sacrificing the education and safety of our students,” Matousek said.
Matousek said the process has already begun and the district is already at work formulating a new plan for the capital projects.
Sarah Hall is the editor of the Eagle Star-Review and the Baldwinsville Messenger. The 2012 winner of the Syracuse Press Club's Selwyn Kershaw Professional Standards Award, she has been with Eagle Newspapers since 2006. She is a Liverpool native.