February 16, 2010 Wisconsin Referendum Votes (Updated with Results)

Update, results:

Bangor, both pass, operating 379 yes votes to 214; construction 437 yes votes to 157 no votes.

Brodhead, fails, 1,021-828.

Edgar, passes 706 to 629.

Green Lake, fails, 393 to 374.

Hilbert, passes, 419 t0 305.

Rhinelander, both pass, operating 3,646 to 3,111, construction, 3,664 to 3,089.

Shiocton, pass, 8 votes, can’t find totals.

8 pass, 2 failed.

The video at the top is from the 2006 Madison referendum campaign, since the voter turnout on Tuesday is expected to be small I thought a little shame might help bring people out.

We are in a new era of referenda.  Referenda for building purposes remain much the same, except in many districts property tax increases to make up for drops in state support have made passage more difficult.  Operating referenda are also more difficult for the same reason, but there is a twist.  Previously the biggest financial issue was that rising costs — many of them mandated or near mandated — outstripped allowed revenue increases (the revenue caps).  This problem remains, but in many districts it has receded in importance because the drop in state support has made simply taxing to the max — using all the allowed revenue authority  — and the large property tax increases that result  intolerable to many voters and Board members.  According to the Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance, a recent record 98 out of 427 districts — including Madison — did not tax to the max for the current yearEvery indication is that the percent will be higher this year.  For these districts, increased revenue authority via a referendum is irrelevant.   These districts have to cut to address the gap between allowed revenues and costs (like always) and are cutting to limit property tax increases.   It is a new era.

It is this situation that leading our schools into crisis and making our schools the center of conflict instead aspirations.  It is this situation that inspired the Wisconsin Alliance for Excellent Schools to launch the Penny for Kids campaign to increase state education funding and improve how it is allocated.  Click the links, find out more and sign the petition.

On Tuesday, eight districts will have a total of ten referenda before the voters; four for construction borrowing, and six for operating expenses (one recurring and five nonrecurring).  You can see all the referenda details here.

The Bangor district is asking for $580,000 in demolition and construction debt authority (for the old high school gym, this would be a no interest ARRA loan) and three years on additional revenue authority at $350,000 a year.  The district referendum page is here.  Here is what the LaCrosse Tribune reported on the operating referendum:

“We’ve pared things down, and even if this one passes we will still have to look at ways to reduce our budget and conserve our expenses,” Superintendent Roger Foegen said. “But the board felt in these tight economic times we couldn’t ask for any more than we are currently getting.”

The district is in the final year of a three-year $350,000 operating referendum, he said.

Without renewal, it will face a $400,000 to $450,000 deficit next school year.

The district already trimmed $600,000 from its annual budget before going to the public three years ago, Foegen said.

“Because of the state funding formula and the things that go into it, we need to maintain it if we are going to keep our current programs and personnel,” he said.

Foegen said the plan will cost the owner of a $100,000 property an estimated $78 in 2010-11; $39 in 2011-12; and $13 in 2012-13.

The Brodhead district has a four year non recurring measure on the ballot.  Here is how it breaks down:

2010-2011 $635,000
2011-2012 $810,000
2012-2013 $855,000
2013-2014$1,285,000
Total $3,585,000

The district has a nice referendum page here.  It includes a list of cuts made sine 2003-4, which is good reminder that the current crisis comes on top of 16 years of cuts because — by state design — revenues have bee kept below cost-to-continue.  You can read the whole list at the link, here are the programs:

Programs or Activities Eliminated

– Jazz Band II eliminated – FHA (Future Homemakers) eliminated

– FBLA (Future Business Leaders) eliminated

– drivers’ education eliminated

– District funding for 7th grade camp eliminated (still runs thru funding by student activity account)

– access to HSED/GED programming at BlackHawk Tech reduced and restricted

– greenhouse no longer heated by District funds (now provided by FFA Alumni)

– eliminated French as an elective class at the HS

There is also a narrative  of what will likely be cut if the referendum fails here are some excerpts:

The School Board has identified staff and program cuts that will be necessary to balance the budget without a successful referendum. These would include: three elementary teaching positions (moving all grades to three sections, regardless of the number of students in the grade); three teaching positions between the high school and middle school, plus two elective programs (and their teachers) at the high school and middle school; one guidance counselor; two administrators; the high school adventures class; the long-distance learning program; and ALL extra-curricular positions at the high school and middle school. These cuts would be phased in over the next two years.

And, what is the impact of these cuts? Class sizes in the elementary school would increase from the current 18-23 students, to classes in the high twenties. Class sizes in the high school would increase from the current mid-twenties to around thirty, with some classes pushing thirty-five students. With the larger class sizes, students would receive less of the individual attention many of them need to be successful in school. Curriculum development and innovative new programs would fall by the wayside. Students would have less access to advanced coursework, at a time when they most need it to compete with graduates of other schools. And, access to some elective programs that prepare students for specific career fields might be eliminated altogether. Students having problems at school or home would have less access to a counselor.

Remember that Governor Jim Doyle and the Democratic leadership continue to boast of having “protected education.”  With “friends” like that — who look the other way while cuts like these are on the table — education doesn’t need enemies.

The Janesville Gazette reports another factor at play in the Bradhead and other votes on Tuesday (the Beloit Daily News includes similar observations):

District officials have “real serious concerns” if the referendum fails because families will have three days to file by the state’s open enrollment deadline to attend different districts, [Superintendent Chuck] Deery said.

“I’ve been hearing from quite a few families that that’s exactly what they’re going to do,” he said. “They won’t wait around (to see the board make the cuts). They want those activities for their kids.”

This is the death spiral.  State policies and budgets force program cuts, enrollment declines as temporarily better off districts poach students, accelerating the cuts.

Edgar is asking to issue

general obligation bonds in an amount not to exceed $7,600,000 for the public purpose of paying the cost of remodeling existing physical education facilities for use as performance center/auditorium, constructing replacement physical education facilities, adding additional elementary classrooms, renovating and remodeling food service and music facilities, and acquiring equipment

The main Wausau Daily Herald story is here.  There are also a number of letters to the editor, all the ones I saw were in support.

Green Lake has the only recurring measure this time around.  For reasons that should be obvious recurring referenda make more sense.  The Bangor situation described at the top of this post is a perfect example.  Three years ago they went through the work to pass a nonrecrring referendum; now three years later they are having to ask again.  The reality of a system that does not provide for adequate revenues isn’t likely to change soon (here are those links to help work for change:  Wisconsin Alliance for Excellent Schools, Penny for Kids, School Finance Network and the AMPS “Take Action” page) and districts and communities repeatedly “going to referendum” is a divisive waste of resources.

The open enrollment issue is part of this story too.  Green Lake has implemented environmental education and International Baccalaureate programs in an attempt to reverse the demographically-driven declining enrollment by attracting new students.

The Green Lake referendum page is here, with this video:

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Here are two items from their Q&A:

QUESTION: What happens if the referendum vote is no?

ANSWER: The district would have to cut $660,000 in the next budget, and there would be no additional funds for maintenance or technology. This would be followed by more cuts each year after that. There would be program and staffing reductions. Suffice it to say, the school would not be the same as it is today.

QUESTION: Has the district made cuts?

ANSWER: Yes, in the past four years the cuts have totaled over $600,000. This has allowed the district to extend the 2001 referendum extra years beyond the five years it was predicated to last.

Also worth reading is this from the RiponPress.com:  School: Tax effect would be minimal.

Hilbert is another construction project debt vote and like Bangor is looking to take advantage of stimulus related no interest loan opportunities.  They are asking for $4.7 million.  The Appleton Post-Crescent decribes the projects:

[U]pating classrooms; adding a new science wing; converting the current instructional media center and science labs to a larger library and media area and computer classroom; and upgrading heating, ventilation and air conditioning.

This is really the basic essentials, and if we turn this down I don’t know where we will go,” said Hilbert Supt. Tony Sweere, expressing hope that more voters “can get behind this.”

“It amounts to a 25- to 30-year fix for the middle/high school campus, which hasn’t been touched since it was built in 1974-75,” he said. “This will upgrade everything.”

A larger construction referendum failed by 89 votes in November 2008.

Rhinelander
is another district with both construction and operating expenses on the ballot (referendum page here).   The state finance squeeze has been particularly tough on Rhinelander.  They’ve tried repeatedly for relief from referenda without much success.  Since 2005, four construction debt referenda have failed, as have five operating votes.  The only one to pass was an HVAC upgrade paid for by a one-time operating levy increase.

The current construction ask is for ‘for remodeling and repairing existing buildings” and would also take advantage of the  ARRA interest savings.

On the operating expenses and state funding, here is how SDR business director Marta Kwiatkowski described the situation in the Daily News:

“The way the state’s school aid formula works means that every school district in the state eventually will go bankrupt, some sooner than later. In time, every district will need to go to referendum, asking residents to exceed the revenue caps,” she said.

State aid to the Rhinelander district has dropped precipitously in the past decade. In 2000-01, state aid was $13.2 million, approximately 52 percent of the general budget. By 2008-09, state aid had dropped to $7.7 million, approximately 28 percent of the general budget, requiring residents to shoulder more of the cost of running the district. State aid is estimated to be at zero for this district in four years. The adjacent graph charts the decline of state aid to the district since 2001 and the corresponding rise in property taxes.

Year Property Taxes State Aid

2000-01 $12,035,267 $13,249,469

2001-02 $13,460,627 $12,387,722

2002-03 $14,108,872 $12,145,111

2003-04 $15,351,872 $11,337,277

2004-05 $17,012,020 $10,089,233

2005-06 $15,613,885 $11,693,310

2006-07 $16,560,823 $10,859,344

2007-08 $18,600,885 $ 9,314,011

2008-09 $19,875,455 $ 7,721,621

The district’s annual budget from state aid and tax revenues for 2008-09 was $27.59 million, down $317,820 from the previous year. Comparatively, in 2001-02, the annual budget from these sources was $25.84 million.

Here are the proposed cuts if the referendum fails (click on image for pdf):

Closing schools, cutting extra-curriculars, raising class sizes, stopping book purchases….throwing the future in the trash.

Shiocton is another example of the false attraction of nonrecurring referenda, compounded by the squeeze of state defunding.  Their four year referendum is expiring but because of state cuts in education investments, they had tor raise property taxes last year by 20%.  The plan now is to ask for another nonrecurring operating referendum below cost-to-continue and combine that with cuts (this is similar to what Madison did with the “Partnership Plan“).

Here is how the Appleton Post Crescent explained things:

The referendum asks voters’ permission to exceed state revenue limits by $500,000 for the 2010-11 school year, $600,000 for 2011-12 and $700,000 in each of the following three school years.

Shiocton school Supt. Chris VanderHeyden said the district faces a $900,000 shortfall next school year if it does not take this step to help balance the budget by covering the cost of preserving district education programs.

Regardless of whether the referendum passes or fails, the school district of 790 students in pre- kindergarten through grade 12 will need to cut $400,000 to stay in the black, VanderHeyden said.

About 65 percent of the $400,000 will come in staffing cuts, he said, which includes a reduction of 3.5 teachers and two paraprofessionals. The rest will come from such areas as departmental budgets, athletics, staff development, textbook adoptions and food service. “We will make the cuts but we also need the referendum to balance the budget,” he said. …

The increase this year was up nearly 20 percent. Either way, the tax rate will drop next year, VanderHeyden said. If the referendum passes, property taxes will drop $107 for the owner of a $100,000 home. If it fails, the property taxes will drop $278 for the owner of a $100,000 home.

So if it passes, there will be major cuts and taxes will go down.  If it fails, there will be even larger cuts and taxes will go down more.  Where is the choice for fully funding education?

The best answer is that choice has to be made at the state level.  Here are those links again: Wisconsin Alliance for Excellent Schools, Penny for Kids, School Finance Network and the AMPS “Take Action” page (the last has links to contact state officials).

Last but not least is Three Lakes.  This is one of those districts caught in declining enrollment and relatively high property wealth.  It also another district in the last year of a nonrecurring operating referendum.  Three Lakes is in worse financial shape, has been squeezed harder, have been cutting for years; according to the district figures, without a successful referendum they will run out of money in February 2011.

Therefore they are asking:

…that the revenues included in the School District budget for three years beginning with the 2010-2011 school year and ending with the 2012-2013 school year be authorized to exceed the revenue limit specified in Section 121.91, Wisconsin Statutes, by $1,517,469 a year, for non-recurring purposes consisting of funding operating expenses.

In the Rhinelander Daily News District Administrator George Karling and others give the big picture:

Three Lakes District Administrator George Karling said the override voters are being asked to approve is necessary to fund current programs and amounts to about half of the annual revenue that has been lost, compared to 10 years ago.

With about $900,000 in the district’s general fund, Karling said Three Lakes would only have funds available to operate through February 2011 absent approval of the override.

Informational material the district sent to voters indicates the district is not allowed to operate at a deficit and would “become insolvent and close in the near future” if the referendum fails.

School Board Clerk Tom Rulseh said the district’s budget is “really tight,” with the budgeted expenditures of $10,507,798.50 for 2009-10 down about $80,000 from the previous school year, while the revenue override is necessary to continue to operate.

“I don’t know where the money would come from” if the referendum fails, Rulseh said.

…When asked whether it would be necessary to approve another revenue override three years from now, Karling said he hopes state lawmakers change Wisconsin’s school funding formula by then to provide more money for Three Lakes, which is considered a “property rich” district and receives little state funding.

He said proposals on the state level to boost funding for K-12 education include an additional 1 percent sales tax, which is known as “A Penny for Kids” and backed by the Wisconsin Alliance for Excellent Schools, and a “65 percent hold harmless” provision to lessen the amount of lost revenue because of declining enrollment.

They also note that dissolving the district would likely lead to even higher property taxes.

That’s the roundup.  More votes in April.  Before closing I wnat to again share something and suggest you follow my lead.  When I do these posts that involve districts all over the state, I often take a look around their web sites.  I am always struck by the good work being done, some traditional, some innovative but all a source of pride for the students, the educators, the families and the communities.  All the sites are linked at their names, so I suggest you do the same.  It is a good reminder of why education is so important and why we need to do better recognizing that.  When you are done, help Wisconsin do better by getting involved for change.

Here are those links again: Wisconsin Alliance for Excellent Schools, Penny for Kids, School Finance Network and the AMPS “Take Action” page.

Vote Yes for Schools (and do more)

Thomas J. Mertz!

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Filed under "education finance", Best Practices, Budget, Contracts, education, Elections, finance, Local News, Pennies for Kids, Referenda, referendum, School Finance, Take Action, Uncategorized, We Are Not Alone

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