BETH HANSON, News Editor
The April 3 election in Beloit brings with it more than just the presidential primary. There are seven candidates for four Beloit City Council positions and there is a referendum to raise property taxes in support of a $70 million renovation and reconfiguration plan for the Beloit School District.
Of those running for city council, three are incumbents and four are challengers.
Incumbent James (Jim) Van De Bogart could not be reached for an interview. Van De Bogart is currently running for his fifth term on the council. In a candidate forum sponsored by the Wisconsin Property Owners League at the end of February, Van De Bogart spoke of tough decisions the council recently had to make. This year, the council was faced with a difficult decision of eliminating 20 public safety positions.
“I’ve made some tough decisions and tough choices,” Van De Bogart said. “I think we’re making progress [on the council] and I’d like to continue to help that.”
Sheila De Forest’90, an incumbent and Beloit College alumna, is seeking her third term on the council.
“There’s still a lot of work to be done,” De Forest said.
De Forest would like to see more residential involvement in local decision-making. Some of the issues that are important to her in a third term, beyond getting more residents involved in city council, include seeing more environmental decision-making, more of a focus on small businesses and the construction of a new police station.
“I would hope that college students realize how important they are to the community,”De Forest said. “Their vote and their voice really do matter.”
Charles Haynes is also an incumbent seeking his third term on the council. If elected to a third term, Haynes is looking forward to seeing the downtown renovations and the bike path plan completed.
“I’m thrilled to be able to help my city,” Haynes said. “I think that one of the things I like about doing this is [that] I don’t hold anything back. I’ve been giving back to the city ever since I moved here.”
Challenger Charles “Chuck” Kincaid retired to Beloit with his wife six years ago.
“We wanted a diverse community and a college town,”Kincaid said.
With a background in city planning, Kincaid has been involved in projects like state-wide environmental programs and development. One of the big issues Kincaid hopes to address through a term on the council is the local economy. He is interested in seeing the casino project executed properly and, as a voter, hopes to see the school referendum pass.
“I think I can help make a difference,” Kincaid said. “[My] balance of experience and interest would be helpful to Beloit.
Mike Zoril, a challenger, hopes to enhance the voice of the younger generation on the council as well as bring his background in finance and budgets. He believes that with his experience, the council could manage the budget better and avoid future cuts. Zoril believes that safety is a top priority in Beloit. He, too, would like to see more power in the hands of Beloit residents.
“Most of the decisions are made by city managers, then they go to city council who votes on them,” Zoril said. “I think the emphasis should change. I’d like to see more residents come to city council during the public speaking portion.”
Kim Mork, another challenger who was born and raised in Beloit, thinks that the council has not been listening to the people.
“The more I listened, the more I thought maybe they’re going in the wrong direction,” Mork said.
Some of the issues that are a concern for Mork include sustainability. She said, “But there’s a deeper story. I want to understand a bit more than just say ‘Oh, that sounds good.’ We have to look at history and other countries.”
Mork is also concerned that not enough power is in the hands of the people. She believes that government has too much power and that nongovernmental organizations also take power away from the people. Mork hopes to restore power to the people by seeing council meetings more well-attended.
The final challenger, Dave Botts, will be on the ballot, but is no longer actively running for a position on city council.
The referendum for the school district would cover $29 million in renovations to primary, $34 to intermediary and $7 million to secondary schools.
Changes to primary schools include consolidation of elementary schools, including the closing of three schools and renovations to the remaining six. Renovations would include more and larger classrooms, necessary repairs and a security upgrade. The elementary schools would become pre-kindergarten through third grades (PK-3), only.
Four intermediate schools (not including Aldrich and McNeel middle schools) would be renovated. Fourth, fifth and sixth grades would be grouped in separate wings from seventh and eighth grades. However, there would be shared spaces for departments including music, art, physical education and library media.
High school changes at Beloit Memorial High School will include a new swimming pool and tennis courts that will allow Beloit Memorial to host home meets. In the Life Center, the old pool area would be torn up and replaced with a new workout room and dance or yoga studio.
Beloit Superintendent Steve McNeal said in a presentation on imaginebeloit.org that research has shown educational advantages for grouping PK-3 and 4-8. Intermediary schools with fourth through eighth grades are more effective than middle schools by keeping “parents and students involved in more of an elementary focus.”
By consolidating the buildings, the school district would have the opportunity to save $2.3 million per year, according to McNeal. McNeal believes that the renovations to the school will draw more businesses and families to Beloit.
“The one thing we hear all the time is that this is going to help the City of Beloit,” McNeal said.
Eight of the current school buildings were built before 1928; the most recently building was constructed in 1965. The last set of major renovations were made in 1994.
The increase in property taxes to the average homeowner in Beloit (with a home valued at $75,000) would be $67.50 per year, or $5.63 per month.
To learn more about the referendum, visit beloitschools.net.
On April 3, Beloit College students can vote for four of the seven city council candidates and either yes or no for the referendum.