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Citizens committee develops into valuable resource for Litchfield Schools

LITCHFIELD -- With less than a month until a referendum, Litchfield Public Schools continues to share operating levy information to the public with the help of the privately funded Citizens for Education Committee.

Superintendent Bill Wold told the Tribune this week that the School Board conducted its second monthly meeting Monday at Prairie Park Pavilion following a neighborhood meeting organized by the Citizens for Education Committee.

The citizens group promoting the levy has developed into a valuable resource unlike anything the district has had before a referendum.

Thus far, Wold said, the committee has had four hour-long meetings across Litchfield, attracting crowds of 20 or more at each location.

The meetings are designed to inform district residents about the levy question before them in the district's upcoming referendum.

On May 19, voters will decide whether to support or reject a seven-year, $600-per-student operating levy scheduled to start in 2010. If the measure is approved, the current levy would be revoked.

The district's proposal asks for about $300 more per student than the district's existing levy set to expire in 2012 -- unless it is revoked and replaced with the new levy starting in 2010.

Litchfield Public Schools with the current ballot question is seeking the same levy increase amount in May that local voters rejected in November.

At the committee's informational meetings, "We just throw it out for different questions," said Wold, who attends all the meetings with a few board members. " ... We allow the people to steer the discussions."

The neighborhood gatherings, he said, have allowed the district to reach people it hasn't had "face-to-face contact" with at previous city club meetings or other district informational meetings. Wold said the committee's meetings have also helped the district clarify the information and answer any questions these unknown faces might have about the levy and the referendum, Wold said.

The committee, which is made up of at least 35 members, has about eight more meetings scheduled before the May 19 voting date, Wold said. The last formally scheduled meeting is May 7, he said, but he suspects more will follow.

The organized meetings, however, are just the tip of the iceberg in terms of the committee's value to the district's cause, Wold said.

For the most part, Wold said, the district's residents understand the financial condition of Litchfield Public Schools and its desire for a new levy, but many still have questions. The Citizens for Education Committee has helped the district clarify the situation by channeling resident questions to the district office, Wold said.

"We did not have that network before in regards to clarifying things," Wold said, talking about previous referendums.

"We can get the information out much faster and clarify a misconception almost immediately."

In essence, Wold said, the Citizens for Education Committee has "become a conduit" for residents to get district information and for the district to respond to any fallacies about the levy and the election.

"We'll let the chips fall where they may," Wold said. "But in regard to the process and what these folks have set up, it is working in regard to getting things clarified out there."

Also this week, the Litchfield School Board approved an agreement with the district business manager for a 0 percent increase to her salary in 2008-09 and 2009-10. In previous meetings, the board has approved similar agreements for the salaries of Wold and the district's principals.