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Thursday, 27 October 2016 14:31

Vote 2016: School referendums on the rise

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The presidential contest might be grabbing election headlines but in some area communities, school referendums are taking center stage on the Nov. 8 ballot.

Although the dynamics driving referendums are different in Illinios than they are in Wisconsin, funding for schools continues to put pressure on some district budgets.

The number of school referendums in Wisconsin has been increasing the last few years, said Dale Knapp, research director for the Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance.

 

(Scroll down of list of area school referendums)

"In recent years, numbers (of referendums) have gone up," Knapp said. "It’s usually a long-term cycle. They went up in 2009 and then declined. In recent years, they’ve gone back up. In 2008, there were 84 (school) referendums (in the state). By 2013, it dropped to about 36, which was a significant drop.

(Read more HERE. Fall election special section)

"The number moved back up to about 69 in 2014, then 44 in 2015. There were 43 in the spring of this year. We haven’t added up the numbers for this fall, but the numbers could be up to the 60s or 70s for this year."

Many of the referendums are to allow districts to exceed state-imposed revenue caps, he said, although others are for building projects.

"Reasons for building referendums are usually dependent on growth," Knapp said. "The district might be growing, so they need to add more schools. The high school might be 75 years old, and the district needs to build a new one. There’s no set pattern for building referendums. It’s usually based on need."

One reason for the increase in referendums is because some school districts are seeing higher costs and lower revenues.

"Act 10 generated some savings for school districts during the first two years, but now some of that savings has gone away," Knapp said. "Health care costs have gone back up and revenue has gone down, which has caused districts to ask to exceed the revenue caps."

Enrollment has decreased in some school districts, especially in rural districts, which has resulted in more referendums.

"Historically, referendums have more likely occurred in districts with declining enrollment. That usually occurs in the rural school districts, but it has occurred in the urban school districts as well," Knapp said. "When enrollment declines, districts are forced to (decrease) expenses. When enrollment declines, revenue starts to fall. Districts usually have to cut programs or go to referendum."

During the past few years, referendums have had a higher success rate, he said.

"If you look at statistics, referendums have a 70 percent to 80 percent success rate," Knapp said. "It’s a good time for districts to go to referendum. Historically, referendums had a 50/50 success rate. Many districts feel that now is a good time to go out for a referendum since there is a higher success rate."

It’s unclear whether the number of school referendums will continue to increase, Knapp said. The trend will most likely be determined by the state budget.

"We don’t know what they’re going to do next with the budget. The Democrats could gain control of the Senate. Some Republicans have talked about providing more support for K-12 schools," Knapp said. "There might be some competition for funding with the UW system or with Medicaid. There’s a lot of pieces at work. We’re not sure how it’s all going to play out."

School referendums on the ballot

Wisconsin

(Referendum questions edited for clarity)

Clinton Community School District

Should the district be allowed to exceed the revenue limit on a recurring basis for maintaining reasonable class sizes, educational programming and supporting student access to instructional technology for the following amounts:

• $450,000 in the 2017-’18 school year

• $900,000 in the 2018-’19 school year

• $1,350,000 in the 2019-’20 school year

• $1,800,000 in the 2020-’21 school year

Elkhorn Area School District

Question 1: should the district borrow no more than $22.9 million for:

• purchase of 56 acres of land east of the high school and west of U.S. Highway 12

• upgrades for safety and traffic circulation at the middle school

• construction of agricultural greenhouse facilities at the high school

• renovation of the high school auditorium

• remodeling of classroom and special education spaces at the high school and middle school

• renovation to remaining unfinished space in the 1887 Building

• addition and upgrades to district athletic facilities

Question 2: Should the district be allowed to exceed the revenue limit by $300,000 beginning in the 2018-’19 school year and on a recurring basis, for district facilities maintenance, staffing and equipment?

Geneva Joint 4 School District (Woods School)

Should the district borrow no more than $4.6 million for school additions, remodeling and renovations, including:

• a gymnasium

• classrooms and learning space

• safety and security improvements

• kitchen/cafeteria improvements

• HVAC upgrades

• site improvements

• equipment, furnishings and fixtures

Milton School District

Question 1: Should the district be allowed to exceed the revenue limit by $2.5 million a year for the 2016-’17 school year through the 2020-’21 school year for educational programming, staffing and maintenance expenses?

Question 2: Should the school district be allowed to borrow no more than $87 million for:

• construction of a new high school with swimming pool on land adjacent to the current high school that is owned by the district

• additions, renovations and improvements to provide for reconfiguration of grade levels at all district schools and conversion of the current high school to the middle school

• safety, security and capital maintenance improvements at district facilities

• accessibility improvements

• furnishings, fixtures and equipment

Whitewater Unified School District

Should the district borrow no more than $23.5 million for:

• districtwide renovation and remodeling of instructional spaces

• safety improvements, including secured school entrances and ADA updates

• a new gym/multipurpose room and instructional spaces at Lincoln Elementary

• an expanded physical education facility at the high school

• districtwide infrastructure upgrades and site improvements

• furnishings and fixturesIllinois

Hononegah School District

The Hononegah School District is placing a $44 million referendum on the ballot to implement a master facility plan at Hononegah High School.

The plan includes building a new field house to replace the athletic dome that was damaged by an ice storm last December. Other potential projects could include improving the school’s 20-year-old performing arts center, improving technology and replacing carpeting, desks and furniture.

If the refendum is approved, the owner of a $100,000 home would see an increase of about $130 in property taxes in the first year.

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