Bill would place severe restrictions on local school referendums

blackboard where you can vote yes or no

blackboard where you can vote yes or no

Republican legislators are circulating a bill that would place severe restrictions on local school referendums.

The bill – circulated by Rep. Michael Schraa (R-Oshkosh) and Sen. Duey Stroebel (R-Cedarburg) – changes the schedule by which a school district can place a referendum on the ballot.  Currently, a school referendum can coincide with a primary election, general election, or a special election can be called specifically for the referendum. Under this bill, a school district referendum would have to coincide with a regularly scheduled spring or fall general election.

It also requires that a school district wait a period of time before resubmitting a referendum request following a failed referendum.  Currently, there is no limitation on whether, and how frequently, a referendum may be placed before voters.  This bill would prevent a school board from bringing a new referendum request for two years after a referendum is rejected by a majority of district voters.

Both WEAC and Wisconsin Association of School Boards are opposing the bill.

“Wisconsin students deserve the resources they need to learn,” said WEAC President Betsy Kippers. “Since the state has defunded public schools, referendums are the only option left for communities to provide for their children. This legislation would take away their local control and decrease the odds of a referendum passing.”

In this week’s Legislative Update, WASB said:

  • This bill is anti-local control.
  • This bill does not show trust in locally-elected officials.
  • With revenue limits frozen for this budget cycle for the first time, referenda are the only way many districts can access resources. This proposal will significantly impact declining enrollment districts which are often small rural school districts many of which need referenda to maintain programming.
  • Will further exacerbate the trend of creating “Haves” who can pass referenda and “Have Nots” who cannot. Opportunities for students will further be determined by their zip code.
  • The bill is extremely restrictive and inflexible for school boards – under the bill in odd number years boards will only have one opportunity to go to referendum (in the spring).  If that referendum fails, boards will have to wait two years to the next odd number year where once again there will only be one opportunity.  In a state budget year a district would have to wait until the following spring to react to funding decisions made by the state.
  • In arguing for the two year moratorium, the co-sponsorship memo being circulated states it is necessary because school boards are “holding repeated referenda in order to either wear down the public or manipulate the process”. Legislators should be aware that referenda can fail for reasons other than the community is unwilling to increase spending on their schools. There may be other issues in the plan that voters do not support and when those issues are addressed the subsequent referendum passes. For example, disagreement over the plan for construction, not the need for new/expanded facilities.  School boards are being responsive to the community.