BE IT RESOLVED by the School Board of the Southwestern Wisconsin Community School District, Grant and Lafayette Counties, Wisconsin, that the revenues included in the School District budget be authorized to exceed the revenue limit specified in Section 121.91, Wisconsin Statutes, by $1,200,000 for the 2023-2024 school year, by $1,300,000 for the 2024-2025 school year and by $1,400,000 for the 2025-2026 school year for non-recurring purposes, consisting of maintaining the educational programs and current level of district operations.
WHERE WILL THE REFERENDUM DOLLARS BE USED?
—Mental Health Services for Students so that we can respond to increasing student needs.
—Maintain class sizes so that we can best meet each student’s individual needs.
—Competitive Employee Wages and Benefits Plans in order to retain staff that can meet student needs with a best-in-class workforce.
—Equity in Learning Environments so that we can keep our buildings updated to provide spaces that support 21st-century best practices in teaching and learning.
—Maintain Student Services Programming so that our school counselors, social workers, and special education teachers are best able to meet student needs.
Q: Why is the district in this predicament? How can this happen or why?
A: The funding structure the state of Wisconsin uses was put in place 30 years ago. This locked in a per pupil amount for each district. Southwestern School district is the lowest funded per pupil aid in the state at $10,000/student, while other districts get $11,000, $12,000 or even $13,000 per student. This, coupled with the revenue caps not increasing with inflation or CPI, has created a void in funding. The current revenue cap we are operating on right now is the same amount that we had 10 years ago. It is no longer feasible to operate our schools on those funding levels.
Q: What happens if the referendum fails?
A: If the referendum is not approved on April 4, 2023, the District will develop a process for making significant budget reductions for the 2023–2024 school year and beyond. We will need to reduce our largest expenses, including salaries, benefits, and purchased services.
Q: Why is the number so high? 1.2 million, 1.3 million, 1.4 million.
A: History has proven the state has not allocated enough money for schools to keep up with the rising costs of inflation. These numbers are based on the state not allocating any new money to schools.
Q: What if the state allocates more money to schools. Will the district levy the full amount they are asking?
A: The district will only levy the amount needed to maintain operations. If the state allocates additional monies to the school, then we will only levy the amount we need to maintain our budget.
Q: What are ESSR Funds and how does this impact the schools budget?
A: ESSR funds are “one-time” allocations for schools to use on staff, programs, and operations due to COVID. The district received roughly $700,000 to be used over a 3-year period. These funds will be exhausted at the end of the 2022-23 school year causing a fiscal cliff, forcing us to go for an operational referendum. In short, these allocations helped bridge our current budget until a more permanent funding is obtained through a referendum.
Q: What is the difference between capital and operating referendums?
A: In a capital referendum, funds are borrowed and paid back with interest. This type of referendum is most often used for building projects. In an operating referendum, there are no interest payments because there are no borrowed funds. The referendum amount is levied each year (pay as you go) and is more cost-efficient for the community.
Q: How much will my taxes increase?
A: With a successful referendum, your property tax rate is still projected to have little to no increase. Depending on how much “new” money the state allocates to schools will also determine the tax impact. The goal would be to not increase taxes.
Q: How can the district pass this referendum and not increase taxes?
A: The reason we are able to pass this referendum with little or no tax impact is because the district has been aggressive in paying off the athletic field referendum and we no longer will have that payment.
Q: What has the district done to be fiscally responsible?
A: We are consistently writing grants to help maintain programs. When the grant funds expire, the district is left to absorb those costs in the budget. The district has been able to increase the amount of state aid received allowing the district to pay down debt faster ultimately saving taxpayers interest on the previous referendums. The school’s athletic field referendum will be completely paid off 7 years early; saving taxpayers over $250,000 of interest. We also have been aggressively paying off debt on our capital referendum, Middle/High School project, shortening the length of the loan and saving taxpayers an additional $300,000 in interest.