Of the 12 referendum questions on the ballot yesterday — 8 operating and 4 to issue debt, — 8 passed (5 operating and 3 debt). Of the operating referenda that passed, all were nonrecurring. That means that when the authority expires, these districts will be headed “off the cliff.” Thankfully, Madison had the wisdom to facilitate long-term planning with a recurring referendum.
One by one, in reverse alphabetical order.
A “big” win in Weston (after a close loss in April) — 482 to 308 — on a three-year non recurring in amounts for $210, 000 to $575,000. This means that for the next three years Weston will survive and be able to ““keep the books and equipment in the budget year after year.” Got that — in order for a school district to have books, they need the approval of the voters at a referendum. Are you listening Governor Doyle? Are you listening State Legislators? Are you listening voters as you look toward your November ballots? Click the links and try to get the ears of our elected officials.
Shawano got approval to go ahead with the $24.9 Million construction of an Early Childhood – Grade 2 facility and upgrades and additions to other buildings by a vote of 2,186 to 1,842. “The children of Shawano won tonight,” said Lincoln Elementary principal Troy Edwards.
Board members will be forced to cut staff, said board vice president Larry Kamin. The layoff notices will go out in February…
Officials have said as many as seven full-time teachers could be cut, increasing class sizes above state-recommended minimums. Combined-grade classes could also become a reality, officials said.
Salem serves about 1,100 students. The equivalent loss for Madison would be about 153 teachers.
The news for Rhinelander was not so good. Voters there defeated both the request to issue $23.35 Million in debt to renovate, add to and improve existing buildings and build a new facility (3,180 to 3,135) and a recurring referendum in the amount of $225,000 for operations ($3,204 to 3,105). This was a scaled back version of a referendum that failed in April. Prior to the vote The Rhinelander Daily News editorialized:
We believe this community needs to reinvest in our schools so that today’s students get an education that fits today’s world; so students get an education that provides them with options and opportunities. We need an educational system that students can take pride in and that the community can grow around.
and characterized the vote as “an opportunity to do great things, for the schools and the community.”
It is now a missed opportunity. How many other opportunities have been missed in our state because voters don’t fully understand that providing quality education requires successful referenda? How many opportunities have been missed because Boards of Education are reluctant to even ask the voters (or, as in case of Madison, are reluctant to ask for the funding required to maintain our present level or restore valued programs and services that have been cut in the past)? How many have been missed because our elected officials lack the will to enact a way of funding schools that is based on educational needs? Way too many.
A 959 to 866 victory in Montello means they can take a step back from the edge of do-or-die finances. Failure of the two-year non recurring $950,000 measure would likely have set them on the road to dissolution. This breathless video report from WISC-TV tells part of the story and doesn’t even tell that part very well.
I don’t know which is worse, breezy or breathless. The details of school funding are complex (see here for an accessable introduction), but one fact is simple: Each year, without referenda, the (nearly) mandated costs increase faster than the allowed revenues. How hard would it be to convey that information every time referenda are the topic? Apparently too hard for most local members of the fourth estate. In addition to omitting that basic and essential information, the video report neglects to clearly state that when the non recurring authority runs out, Montello will likely be back on the edge and mis-characterizes consolidation as a panacea. By most accounts, consolidation buys a year or two away from crisis while the erosion created by our “going-out-of-business” way Wisconsin funds education continues to eat away at the future of our children and our state.
“We had a very active group of citizens that came together eight months ago and spent eight months looking at all the needs of the district. They were vital in terms of putting this plan together. They came to the board with the referendum plan and the board backed that plan unanimously,” [Superintendent Michelle] Jensen said.
Small class sizes will be kept, technology upgraded, plumbing HVAC and electrical work will be done and there will be a new track (replacing one built 30 years ago). These are basic things that a district should be able to do without having to hold a referendum.
Colby will get the greenbacks for green schools they requested. The vote on that debt measure was 696 to 287. Another vote to refinance retirement obligations also passed, 738 to 228. The Marshfield News Herald reports:
“These referendum questions are focused on a win for everybody, and I think that’s why they were successful,” said Colby Superintendent Terry Downen. “We certainly hope to save programs as a result of softening the blow of increasing costs by having these additional savings in place.”
[Neillsville Superintendent John] Gaier said if the state’s school funding formula remains unchanged, every district in Wisconsin, including Neillsville, will continue asking taxpayers for more money.
Madison media, pay attention. Notice how simple it was to give some of the bigger picture by including that quote from Superintendent Gaier.
Congratulations to all the winners, my most sincere empathy to the losers and to all, let’s fix the system that requires these referenda, let’s “Get’er done.”
Thomas J. Mertz