Proposed Limits Would Make it More Difficult for Voters to Approve New Resources for Schools


October 27, 2015

pdficonLimits on referenda       pdficonPress release

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 districts.

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 big capital projects, such as building a new school. District residents have voted in referenda 380 times since July 2011, approving two-thirds of them.

Wisconsin lawmakers are seeking to limit the opportunities voters have to approve referenda, by prohibiting 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.

This prohibition (Assembly Bill 481/Senate Bill 355) would apply even if the second referendum was unrelated to the first, unsuccessful, one. This prohibition would not apply to the time period after a successful referendum. The bill would also prohibit school districts from using a variety of other financing methods, such as short-term borrowing, in the two years after a referendum did not pass.

Imposing a window during which districts cannot ask voters to approve new resources would reduce, or at least delay, the number of successful referenda, and 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 two-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 two years apart are sometimes less than 730 days apart.

Since July 2011, voters in 31 districts have successfully passed a total of 36 referenda within two years of turning down a referendum. 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 $196 million in voter‑approved resources devoted to improving Wisconsin public schools.

 

restrictions on referenda

 

The table below shows every successful school district referendum passed within two years of an unsuccessful one, starting in July 2011. These successful referenda might not have gone to voters when they did if the proposed policy change had been in place. ­

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 Two Years 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 classrooms

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

Ellsworth Community

$3,900,000

Exceed revenue limits

04/07/2015

Avoid cuts in staff, technology, maintenance, and curricular and extra-curricular offerings

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

Lake Holcombe

$2,025,000

Exceed revenue limits

04/02/2013

Avoid potentially dissolving school district

Lake Mills Area

$18,700,000

Issue debt

11/06/2012

Construction of a new elementary school and demolition of the old one

Linn J6

$2,800,000

Issue debt

11/06/2012

Repair and replace facilities at elementary school

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

Oconto Falls

$1,200,000

Exceed revenue limits

08/12/2014

Purchase educational technology, repair roof, retain teachers

Oconto Falls

$2,200,000

Issue debt

08/12/2014

Add new athletic facilities, improve driveways and parking lots

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

Parkview

$1,050,000

Exceed revenue limits

04/01/2014

Purchase technology and curriculum materials, and address special education costs

Parkview

$17,000,000

Issue debt

04/01/2014

Add commons area, classrooms, and gym

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

Southern Door County

$390,000

Exceed revenue limits

11/04/2014

Maintain academic achievement and extracurricular programs, recruit and retain staff

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                                        

 

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 two years of an unsuccessful referendum. The proposal requires a two-year 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.