RACINE — The $10 billion Foxconn Technology Group manufacturing campus, set to be built in southwest Mount Pleasant, is expected to change the economic landscape of Racine County. Racine Unified School Board President Robert Wittke Jr. made a push during a meeting this week for the board to get ahead of these changes.

“With all the things happening in the community, we can’t afford to just sit back and be reactive to what goes on,” Wittke said. “We need to start getting ahead of where this is going to take us.”

Wittke reminded the board that an influx of employees working at the campus and in supporting industries could mean a boom in school population. Foxconn is expected to employ 3,000 people by the year 2020, and eventually as many as 13,000.

“Most likely, the population is going to end up within the borders of Racine Unified,” said School Board Vice President Dennis Wiser.

Wittke emphasized the importance of long and short term financial planning, as well as ensuring that the board invests in continuous improvement, especially when it comes to test scores.

“We still have to find ways to better educate our kids, up our graduation rates and make sure we’re providing them with the opportunities that they need,” he said.

Growth to the west

During a recent meeting with a local village that he declined to name, Wittke said he learned of 10 developments unrelated to Foxconn that were slated to begin construction within the next year.

“If you start looking at that, a lot of that growth is not going to be generated in the inner city, where we have a lot of our facilities,” Wittke said. “It’s going to move more to the west.”

He added that the district should look into how to handle any possible growth in student population, including deciding where the board would prefer to construct potential new facilities.

Some of the school’s current structures would not be able to handle an influx of students. Gifford Elementary School, for example, has a student population of about 1,500.

“It’s full,” he said.

A boom in student population could put pressure on that facility.

The district already has a facilities planning committee, but Wittke believes that Unified should establish a better framework for how decisions are made when it comes to updating facilities and building new ones.

“These are decisions that may require extending the referendum that we have or go out for a new one,” Wittke said. “It requires the board to set the framework for that.”

Wittke also stressed that the district needs to continue to focus on student achievement in order to be competitive.

School Board member Michelle Duchow said that some people looking to move into the area choose to live in other districts after viewing Unified’s state report card. Unified failed to meet expectations on its 2015-16 report card but moved up to a passing grade in 2016-17.

“This isn’t the first place they want to move when they have other places that are showing a lot higher (scores),” Duchow said.

Preparing for the future

No matter what those on the board might think about the Foxconn development, Wittke said, the district must ensure that its students are prepared for the jobs it is expected to provide.

“I think we have to give them every opportunity to move into whatever employment opportunities that will be offered there, and we would certainly be remiss if we can’t keep the pace to make that happen,” he said.

He added that the board should keep a close eye on Unified’s fiscal health so that it can continue to invest in technology and the development of the Academies of Racine.

Wittke recommended the board begin hosting more frequent meeting sessions to take a detailed look at some of the issues facing the district.

He advised that the board begin with a meeting concerning next year’s budget to determine priorities and make sure they align with the district’s strategic plan.

Wittke believes that those across the globe will be looking at Racine Unified to see if it can supply the workforce that the massive manufacturing campus is expected to require.

“Like it or not, the eyes of the world will be shifting on us once they move the first cubic yard of dirt,” he said.