Deerfield is another step closer to having a schools operating referendum on the ballot in November.
The school board on July 27 decided to craft a resolution for a November referendum that seeks $500,000 a year for five years.
The district has until mid-August to approve a resolution if the referendum is to appear on the November ballot, Superintendent Michelle Jensen said. The resolution must pass no later than 70 days before an election.
Jensen said a resolution will likely come to the school board in early August.
The decision comes after the district saw strong support for an operational referendum on a community survey conducted this summer. Deerfield hired School Perceptions, a Slinger, Wisconsin research firm, to gauge community interest on a survey that was open from mid-June to July 6.
The survey asked whether school district residents would support a new operating referendum to exceed revenue limits by $400,000 per year for five years. It also asked if they would support a referendum for $500,000 per year.
Deerfield closed out its most recent operating referendum on June 30. It had been in effect since 2016.
Bill Foster, a researcher at School Perceptions, said the survey’s results were unique because respondents showed more support for the more expensive option.
Foster said among respondents, 85 percent of residents who are Deerfield parents said they would definitely or likely support a $500,000 referendum this fall.
Additionally, 63 percent of residents who are not parents said they would definitely or probably support a $500,000 referendum.
That’s slightly higher than percentages for a $400,000 referendum. For that question, 74 percent of respondents who are parents supported a $400,00 referendum, and 60 percent of non-parents were in favor.
Foster said 643 people responded to the survey, which is a 32 percent response rate. That’s an increase of 191 respondents since the district’s last survey in 2016.
Even if Deerfield residents approved a $500,000-per-year referendum this November, the more expensive of the two, Jensen and business manager Doreen Treuden said they don’t see tax rates increasing over $11 per $100,000 of property value.
Deerfield is advancing with a five-year referendum this time around, Jensen said, so it could be renewed four years from now in 2024, a year before it runs out. Jensen said administrators want to avoid a shortfall like this year and want to tie referendums to presidential election years to increase voter turnout.
Opting for a higher operating referendum amount, Jensen said, comes in part to offset future economic challenges caused by COVID-19.
School districts across the state are facing increased expenses due to the pandemic, and potentially facing decreased state funding. Jensen said some of these expenses include higher costs for transportation, curriculum, cleaning, class size and technology, Jensen said.
Deerfield did finish the 2019 fiscal year with a surplus of about $612,000, Treuden said on July 27. That’s because it saw decreased expenses in its last quarter after schools closed in March due to COVID-19.
However, Treuden said it’s impossible to tell what next year will look like financially, and how much state aid the schools will receive as the pandemic continues.
The school board voted Monday night to transfer about $509,000 of the surplus into Deerfield’s capital projects fund, where the district will receive state aid on the addition. The board also transferred about $103,000 to its general fund, to avoid short-term borrowing, bringing its fund balance up to about $2 million for the coming year.