Proposed Limit Would Restrict New Resources for Schools, Even as Amended


December 16, 2015

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Wisconsin lawmakers have proposed a change that would make it more difficult for voters to approve additional resources for children in public schools in their district. An amendment to the bill would make the limits less restrictive than originally proposed, but would still make it more difficult for residents to pass referenda increasing local support for schools.  

The state limits the average amount each school district may spend to educate students, but voters in a district can override the spending limit by approving a referendum lifting the spending caps. Voters also determine, via referendum, whether to allow a school district to issue debt for large capital projects.

Wisconsin lawmakers have proposed limiting the opportunities voters have to approve referenda. The original proposal (AB 481/SB 355) would prohibit a school district from sending a referendum to voters for a period of two years after an earlier referendum, if the first referendum was rejected by voters. A school board would not be able to adopt a resolution calling for a referendum or be able to hold a referendum within 730 days of the date that the board adopted the resolution calling for the initial referendum. An analysis by the Wisconsin Budget Project found that voters in 36 school districts have passed referenda since July 2011 that could have been prohibited or delayed by the original proposal. Those referenda allocated nearly $200 million in new resources to local schools.

An amendment to the original bill would shorten the period during which districts may not go to referendum, from two years to one year. Shortening the window reduces the effect of the proposal on school districts, but would likely still reduce resources for students in public schools. The state Department of Public Instruction, which collects information on school referenda, does not publish the dates on which school boards adopt resolutions calling for referenda, but does publish referendum dates. One approach to measure the potential effect of a waiting period is to identify the number of school districts in which voters pass a successful referendum within a one-year period after an unsuccessful referendum. This approach is the best possible given the information available, but somewhat overstates the future impact of a waiting period because basing that period on the dates of the authorizing resolutions gives school boards a little flexibility to avoid the problem that spring elections are sometimes just 364 days apart.

Since July 2011, 24 districts have successful passed a total of 27 referenda within a year of having a referendum turned down by voters. These successful referenda – which might not have been allowed to go to voters when they did if the proposed change had been in effect – represent $147 million in voter‑approved resources devoted to improving Wisconsin public schools.

Even as amended, proposal would restrict

 

This analysis was updated January 15, 2016 to clarify that the two-year waiting period after an unsuccessful referendum begins on the date on which the school board adopts the resolution, rather than on the date the referendum is held.

 

Successful School District Referenda Passed Less than One Year After an Unsuccessful Referendum

July 2011 to October 2015

SCHOOL DISTRICT

AMOUNT

TYPE

DATE

PURPOSE

Arcadia

$14,000,000

Issue debt

11/05/2013

Build a new grade 5-8 school, update existing elementary building

Barron Area

$3,950,000

Exceed revenue limits

08/14/2012

Reinstitute educational programs that have been cut, repair sidewalks, buy buses

Big Foot UHS

$4,950,000

Exceed revenue limits

04/01/2014

Hire math and science teachers, replace school vehicles, improve support for at-risk students

Bonduel

$900,000

Exceed revenue limits

04/02/2013

Purchase computers for classroomsrep

Brillion

$2,950,000

Issue debt

04/01/2014

Improve STEM (Science, technology, engineering and math) facilities in elementary school, upgrade safety and security

Delavan-Darien

$2,500,000

Exceed revenue limits

02/17/2015

Avoid eliminating teaching positions and increasing class sizes

Denmark

$2,600,000

Exceed revenue limits

04/01/2014

Avoid potential cuts in support for students struggling to learn to read or to instruction for sick or disabled students

Dodgeville

$1,300,000

Exceed revenue limits

11/06/2012

Address safety and security needs, remove asbestos

Durand

$13,480,000

Issue debt

04/07/2015

Add on classroom and other space to elementary school, renovate science labs and tech ed area at middle/high school

East Troy Community

$22,500,000

Issue debt

04/07/2015

Build new elementary school, make energy improvements at middle school, add classrooms at high school,

East Troy Community

$2,200,000

Issue debt

04/07/2015

Add space for second graders in new elementary school building construction

Hillsboro

$2,000,000

Exceed revenue limits

02/17/2015

Improve buildings and grounds safety and maintenance needs

Johnson Creek

$18,900,000

Issue debt

04/01/2014

Construction of a new building for grades 5 through 12

Manitowoc

$3,000,000

Exceed revenue limits

04/07/2015

Avoid potentially closing an elementary school or increasing class sizes

Manitowoc

$1,800,000

Exceed revenue limits

04/07/2015

Upgrade facilities for several schools (roofs, exterior doors, flooring, fire alarm system, windows) and improve security

Manitowoc

$1,200,000

Exceed revenue limits

04/07/2015

Update classroom technology and replace existing computers in classrooms and labs

Markesan

$2,780,000

Exceed revenue limits

08/12/2014

Avoid closing schools and partial consolidation with another district

Oakfield

$6,600,000

Exceed revenue limits

04/01/2014

Avoid potentially dissolving school district

Owen-Withee

$1,500,000

Exceed revenue limits

04/01/2014

Prevent cuts to all art, music, tech ed, agricultural education, and athletics. Avoid possibility of consolidation with another district

Prescott

$3,890,000

Issue debt

02/17/2015

Add a high school auditorium

Princeton

$1,350,000

Exceed revenue limits

04/07/2015

Avoid consolidation with another school district

Pulaski Community

$4,370,000

Issue debt

04/02/2013

Address district-wide maintenance and remodeling projects

Rice Lake Area

$20,320,000

Issue debt

11/05/2013

Update science and technology areas, renovate building systems to meet current codes, improve safety of student drop-off area

Turtle Lake

$1,785,000

Exceed revenue limits

11/06/2012

Purchase educational technology, improve security, obtain curriculum materials

Wabeno Area

$2,250,000

Exceed revenue limits

04/01/2014

Continue programs and opportunities offered to students

Wheatland J1

$2,500,000

Exceed revenue limits

10/14/2014

Avoid increasing class sizes and possible dissolution of the district

White Lake

$1,500,000

Exceed revenue limits

04/07/2015

Maintain existing programs, replace elementary school roof, address deferred maintenance

 Source: Analysis of figures from Wisconsin Department of Public instruction, news and web reports                                                                                    

 WISCONSIN BUDGET PROJECT

 

Notes

  • This analysis includes referenda included in the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction online database of school referenda as of October 15, 2015, and includes referenda held on or after July 1, 2011.
  • This analysis does not include the effects of the proposed restrictions that would limit when during the year school districts may schedule referendum elections.
  • The list shows the districts in which votes have passed referenda within one year of an unsuccessful referendum. The proposal requires a 365-day waiting period starting from the date the school board adopts the resolution calling for the referendum, rather than starting from the date of the actual referendum. While this analysis uses the best available data, it somewhat overstates the effect of the waiting period.