Voters in the Lodi School District can expect to see one or more referendum questions on the April ballot.

District Administrator Vince Breunig explained that the Board of Education has laid the groundwork in recent months with both a community survey and facilities study.

He continued, “The Board will be looking at all the information in December, giving direction to the Administration about putting together a referendum question and the final decision will be made at the January Board meeting. Are we going to referendum or not? And for how much? Are we doing one question or two questions? All those decisions still have to be finalized.”

The Board is focused on two possible referendum questions: one operational, the other, maintenance.

There’s historical context behind the need for an operations referendum at this time. The last time Lodi voters saw a school referendum, in 2016, they approved an operating, non-recurring referendum, for $1.7 million dollars for five years. It sunsets at the end of this school year.

Breunig pointed out, “Due to state funding formulas, how the state funds schools and how our enrollment works, we are in a phase now where we have to use a referendum. A lot of schools in the state of Wisconsin have to do that. (The 2016) referendum is coming off the books. So that is significant. Without that, there’s a gap.”

He added, “Our expenses continue to grow just like everybody else’s. Also, we’re working very hard to attract and recruit and retain our support staff and our teaching staff. There is a labor issue, not only in education but everywhere else. We are going to be competing more and more for educators and making sure that we are doing everything we can to make this a great place for them to be.”

Breunig went on, “The last state budget didn’t help, at all. We had a zero percent increase for this year and for next year per pupil. So that’s a significant impact on the size of this referendum. Our costs continue to grow, we have a zero revenue limit increase those two years, so we have to make up that money somewhere.”

Survey results and up-to-date fiscal analysis will help determine the cost of the referendum. According to Breunig, “The community’s been great at supporting the programming that we’ve had here. So the idea behind the operating referendum is for us to just continue the process we have here in Lodi. For us to do that, we have an operating referendum which we are now looking at at about $3.8, $3.85 million.”

Property owners paid a Lodi school tax rate of $11.13 and $11.11 per $100,000 of value each of the last two years. District Business Manager Brent Richter explained the impact of passing such a referendum. “When the $1.7 million comes off, the tax rate or mill rate will go down substantially. From $11.13 to less than $9.0. Even if you add that $3.8 million, we’ll still be under the $11.13.”

Richter explained, “That’s just how the funding formula works. So even if we pass what we need for operational, we’re still going to see a tax rate reduction. Not taxes as a whole. But the tax rate will come down to the low tens. That’s what’s projected.”

The Lodi Board of Education is also deciding whether to place a maintenance referendum on the April ballot.

Breunig said, “We wanted somebody from outside, a third-party vendor, to say this is what your district needs. We’ve had C. G. Schmidt come in and do a building walk through of all of our facilities. They’ve put together a 10-year maintenance plan that they will be sharing at the next Board meeting. The Board will have to make a decision if they just want to fully fund that or if they want to pick and choose.”

Among the major maintenance items are the high school track and middle school parking lot, along with replacing roofs at the high school and elementary school.

The District Administrator reasoned that there comes a point where it’s no longer cost-effective to defer maintenance. “A rubber roof at the high school, the lifespan is 20 years. We’re now at 22-23 years. We have a couple of stained ceiling tiles that we need to replace. But does it make sense to replace them until we fix the roof?

“There was a lot done at the elementary school. We did some major construction in there in the last referendum. If we put a new roof on it and do some work on the façade, when we talk to C. G. Schmidt, that building will last us another 20 years. Which is a good investment for our district, for our taxpayers.”

The District took the temperature of area residents on these matters in the recently completed survey. The results will be presented at the Board’s December meeting.

Richter said taxpayers got to weigh in on the suggested $3.85 million price tag. “Is it the right number? Is it too much? Is it enough? Is it enough to maintain the quality education that our children are getting? I suspect some feedback will be on both sides of that number,” explained Richter.

Respondents could also offer alternatives, according to Breunig. “The next piece is if this doesn’t pass, what are areas that you would be interested in reducing. We have laid out such things as curriculum and technology, co-curriculars, building maintenance, increasing class size; things of that nature.”

Breunig summed up, “Right now, if we’re going to balance our (2022-23) budget, we have a $3.85 million hole. It would devastate this district.” In part, the survey will inform the Board of Education about community support for a $3.85 million figure or if the public wants them to reduce certain expenses and come in with a smaller number.

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