School officials and other supporters of public education spoke out Thursday against a package of bills that would severely restrict the ability of local school districts to raise needed funds through referendums. At a hearing on the bills, they blamed cuts in state funding of public education for the financial challenges faced by school districts and the rise in local referendums.
“The level of referendums would drop significantly if the state would get behind real education reform,” Baraboo School Board Member Doug Mering told the Assembly’s Education Committee.
According to a report in the Green Bay Press-Gazette, Mering said the problem isn’t the referendums, but inadequate state funding that forces districts to turn to their voters for additional revenue.
Rep. Sondy Pope, D-Mt. Horeb, summed them up this way, “Public schools were told, if you don’t have enough money, go to referendum, ask your local voters. And now you don’t like that either. You’ve driven schools into this and now that they’re doing it, you’re saying we got to stop this. I don’t understand the philosophy.”
The three referendum restriction bills are:
- Assembly Bill 282, prohibiting a school board in a unified district from voting on a resolution to exceed a school district’s revenue limit at a school board meeting that is not a regularly scheduled monthly meeting, and prohibiting voting in a common or union high school (UHS) district on a resolution to exceed a school district’s revenue limit at a school district special meeting. The bill would further provide that the electors of common and UHS districts may vote upon an initial resolution to raise money through a bond issue only at the school district’s annual meeting.
- Assembly Bill 268, eliminating recurring referendums to exceed revenue limits and limiting the duration of successful non-recurring (temporary) operating referendums to 5 years, creating an automatic “cliff effect” when those referendums expire. The bill would also convert all previously approved recurring (permanent) operating expense referendums to non-recurring (temporary) operating referendums with a duration of 5 years, which would create a similar “cliff effect.” The five-year clock would begin ticking in the year the bill, if enacted as a new law, is published.
- Assembly Bill 269, requiring, with certain exceptions (e.g., in cases of fire or natural disaster) that all referendum votes must be held on the dates of spring and fall General Elections. This would limit school boards to only two opportunities in an even-numbered year and only one opportunity in an odd-numbered year.
MADISON – Public school officials from around the state voiced opposition Thursday to a slate of bills aimed at slowing the growth of property-tax-raising referendums, saying the measures would usurp local control and leave many districts – particularly small, rural, systems – in dire financial straits.