Some news analyses of the mixed results of Tuesday’s (April 1st, 2008) various school referendums are in. But it was in the opening lede of today’s piece in the Wisconsin State Journal that especially caught my eye, the ongoing problem of message.
More than half of the public school referendums in the state failed to gain approval from voters in Tuesday ‘s election, sending some districts back to the calculators and calendars.
Of the 61 referendums, 30 passed and 31 failed.
In the tiny Weston School District, a request of $644,000 was denied by 31 votes, 395-364, while in expanding Jefferson, the voters decided the district did not need to spend $45.6 million for a new high school.
In both cases, superintendents thought the schools ‘ messages, while unsuccessful, were clear: Pay now or pay more later. The districts may return with recalculated referendums in the fall because the formula for state aid is not going to change.
I don’t believe this type of reporting/analysis is particularly useful, either for the public or policy makers, for one simple reason; the education community has yet to figure out a way of coming up with a common set of talking points/slogans that will give the voting public, most of whom do not have children in school, a compelling reason for their taxes to be raised (and let’s be truthful here) by less than $30 a year, in the vast majority of referendums. At the same time, I would bet most of these referendums on Tuesday, both the successful ones and those that failed, did not incorporate into their message the fact that school the funding formula is broken. Fortunately, we did not have to go before the voters this year, for reasons explained here, but will WE do any better job than other communities when MMSD will inevitably be facing another multi-million dollar shortfall next year at this time and must ask for voters for relief? The past record on this score is not encouraging.
We still have a balkanized approach to school funding reform campaigns around this state. When will the coalition building over the last ten years begin to pay off?