School district swap off fall ballot

School district swap off fall ballot

GIFFORD — Gifford-area residents won't be able to vote this fall on whether they want to swap high school districts.

An advisory referendum had been submitted for the Nov. 4 ballot, asking Gifford-area residents who also are in the Rantoul Township High School district whether they wanted to detach from the RTHS district and send their children instead to Armstrong Township High School.

But the question as submitted doesn't meet election-law requirements.

The reason: The question would have been only on the ballots of some of those in the Gifford school district.

To be a legal question, it would have to be on all ballots in the Gifford district, or a binding referendum.

The Illinois State Board of Elections and the Champaign County state's attorney's office both ruled that including only a part of the district in the advisory question is not legal, Champaign County Clerk Gordy Hulten said.

"I don't believe we had the authority to put it on the ballot," Hulten said.

Gifford Superintendent Rod Grimsley said what "really, really disappointed" him about the process was how long it took for the ruling to come down.

"I turned that in June 19 (to have the question placed on the Nov. 4 ballot) and got notified on (Aug. 25)," he said.

Hulten said he had never seen a ballot question in Illinois like the one proposed in Gifford.

Because of that, it took a long time to investigate the proposal's legality and make a ruling, Hulten said.

There has been concern for some time in Gifford about the higher tax rates to send children to RTHS compared to Armstrong. Last fall's tornado seemed to bring the issue to the forefront, Grimsley said. Many residents and businesses faced rebuilding, which would result in higher property taxes.

Grimsley said Gifford probably could have fought the ruling, but he didn't want to spend a lot of money on an attorney to do so. Gifford school board members agreed, he said.

"We just didn't think it was a fight worth fighting because it was an interpretation of language," Grimsley said.

The ruling doesn't mean the issue is dead. Grimsley said Hulten indicated an alternative would be to take the question to the entire Gifford district in April.

A meeting scheduled for 7 p.m. today at Gifford Grade School will go on as scheduled, Grimsley said.

The meeting was planned to discuss the impact if Gifford opted to detach from RTHS.

Grimsley said he would also discuss the recent ruling that pulled the question off the ballot.

Dave Hinton is editor of the Rantoul Press, a News-Gazette community newspaper. For more, visit rantoulpress.com.

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