There were 65 school referendums on ballots around Wisconsin Tuesday. Northeast Wisconsin saw several successful ballot initiatives: two in Green Bay and one in the Denmark School District. However, another Brown County School referendum suffered a crushing defeat.
The Howard-Suamico School District asked voters for permission to exceed state-imposed revenue limits by $4 million a year, indefinitely. Critics of the proposal said the district was asking to exceed the limits “forever.” The school district and referendum supporters took issue with that description; they argued that open-ended and forever aren’t the same thing. In the end 70% of voters rejected the request.
Prior to the vote HSSD had on its website possible remedies the district could use if the referendum failed. They are still there today:
What are contingency plans if the referendum does not pass? With the budget process for 2017-18 underway, the District is preparing scenarios for additional revenue via a successful referendum or addressing a projected $3 million budget deficit if the referendum is unsuccessful. Included within the second scenario are:
■ Reduction in Force – minimum of 12 positions (emphasis ours)
■ Deferred Maintenance – $1 million
■ Class Size Increases
■ School and Department Budget Cuts
■ Contracted Services Analysis (e.g. busing transportation, cleaning, etc.)
Prior to the referendum the district warned a “minimum” of 12 positions may be eliminated. When Superintendent Damian LaCroix spoke to WTAQ radio Tuesday night, that number had grown:
Superintendent Damian LaCroix says Tuesday’s vote was “more than just a missed opportunity, because the need remains. Regrettably, there will be negative operational consequences.”
LaCroix expects that could include cutting 20 full-time positions in the 2017-18 school year, thus increasing class sizes from the current 25 student to one teacher ratio.
To be fair, the website says a “minimum” of 12. However it appears that in defeat LaCroix is no longer erring to the side of caution in his estimates.
Meanwhile, the HSSD referendum is the type of question at the heart of legislation proposed by State Representative Janel Brandtjen and State Senator Duey Stroebel. From the Wisconsin State Journal:
A separate bill authored by Rep. Janel Brandtjen, R-Menomonee Falls, and Stroebel would eliminate what are known as recurring referendums — ballot questions that raise property taxes permanently — and cap any referendum for operating costs at five years.
For school districts that have already successfully asked voters to approve recurring referendums, like the Madison School District did in 2016, the school board would have to return to voters in five years from the passage of the bill to seek another referendum.
“Forever is a really, really long time,” Brandtjen said, adding that new generations of parents and taxpayers should have the opportunity to have a say over the taxes they pay. “It’s really about transparency, it’s really about accountability and it really puts that back into the hands of the taxpayers.”
Despite the protestations of school administrators and referendum supporters, voters in the Howard-Suamico School District apparently agreed with Brandtjen’s assessment: “forever is a really, really long time.” It likely will not be forever, however, before HSSD comes at voters with another referendum.