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Byron voters reject proposed school referendum second year in a row

This year's referendum proposal was presented to voters in the form of two questions. Between the two, the total would have amounted to $41,485,000.

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Alisha Eiken, left, and Nicki Nicholas wave signs supporting the Byron referendum Tuesday, May 11, 2021. (Jordan Shearer / jshearer@postbulletin.com)
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Byron voters turned down a $41 million referendum on Tuesday that would have funded a number of upgrades throughout the town's school district.

This marks the second consecutive year Byron voters have rejected a referendum for the schools. A year earlier, voters turned down a larger, $58 million proposal.

"The results are in, and the Byron Public Schools referendum did not pass," Superintendent Joey Page said on social media. "We will continue to engage families, students, staff, and community members in our process to determine the best solution and next steps for our district."

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This year's referendum proposal was presented to voters in the form of two questions. The first question asked voters if they would support $29.7 million for a number of upgrades. The second question was contingent on the first passing, and asked voters to support an additional $11.78 million. Between the two, the total would have amounted to $41,485,000.

The votes on the first question were close, with 1,060 people voting "yes" and 1,120 voting "no." It was a difference of only 60 votes. The second question was a little bit more clearly decided, with 944 voting "yes" and 1,252 voting "no." The difference on the second question was 308 votes.

Between the two questions, the referendum would have provided funding for more classroom space at the high school, updates to the athletic fields at the middle school and high school, as well as the construction of an auditorium at the high school, among other projects.

Even though last year's referendum failed, there were several voters who were hopeful about a different outcome, drawing distinctions between the two versions. For one, the 2020 referendum came at a time of great uncertainty as the pandemic was just getting underway. The overall cost of the referendum was also higher during the first version in 2020.

"I just think the economic outlook for everybody is so different now," said Suzanne Birch, who voted in favor of this year's referendum. "There was such an unknown last year."

Voters streamed in and out of Byron Middle School throughout the day to either show their support or opposition at the ballot box. Alisha Eiken and Nicki Nicholas took to the street on Tuesday, encouraging passing vehicles to vote "yes" on the referendum. They both were part of a committee formed to help the referendum pass.

Bryan Akervik said he voted "yes" to both questions.

"This town has been fortunate enough to have a ton of growth," he said. "With that comes the need to have facilities that match that growth. For me personally, taking care of the kids and making sure they have a good environment to learn in is the most important thing."

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Ryan Knudson also voiced support for the projects, saying the district should have gone ahead with it more than a decade ago when they first built the high school. He went on to say that the district needs the upgrades and that the projects will only become more expensive over time.

For others, though, cost of the referendum was still a little too much to support. Don Voll described the proposed referendum as a "waste of money." He went on to say that the referendum wasn't about the classrooms, but other, unnecessary additions.

Elvira Broton, who has lived in Byron for 60 years, also voted "no."

"My taxes keep going up and up. I live on Social Security, and they're going to force me right out of my house if the taxes keep going," she said. "Not everybody can have everything they want when they want it, and this town is notorious for raising taxes."

Related Topics: EDUCATIONBYRON
Jordan Shearer covers K-12 education for the Post Bulletin. A Rochester native, he graduated from Bemidji State University in 2013 before heading out to write for a small newsroom in the boonies of western Nebraska. Bringing things full circle, he returned to Rochester in 2020 just shy of a decade after leaving. Readers can reach Jordan at 507-285-7710 or jshearer@postbulletin.com.
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