Should the $2.5 million operational referendum in the Milton School District continue another five years?
On Monday the school board will consider putting this question on the November ballot. The referendum would be $2.5 million per year for five years and begin when the current $2.5 million ends, said Superintendent Rich Dahman.
The $2.5 million operational referendum approved by Milton School District voters (52.4%) in November 2016 will end in June 2021. The proposed referendum would begin July 2021.
“It maintains both our ability to utilize that funding to continue to have high academic achievement and opportunities for students while at the same time not asking for an increased commitment from the taxpayers,” said Dahman during an interview with the Milton Courier on Monday.
How would the operational referendum if approved in November impact property taxes?
If the proposed referendum passes in November, the impact on taxes would be a continuation of what’s in place.
Dahman said many factors determine an individual’s property tax, including the assessed value of a taxpayer’s property and decisions made by other taxing jurisdictions (a municipality, the county, the technical college and the State of Wisconsin).
If the proposed referendum doesn’t pass, the school district will not be able to collect the $2.5 million per year. Based on just that, the tax rate would be lower. How much lower is a bit complicated because the district will also lose state aid, said Director of Business Services Carey Bradley.
The district receives state aid based on prior year costs, Bradley said. So if the referendum, asking voters to exceed the state-imposed revenue limit by $2.5 million per year does not pass, the school district will not levy it, the school district won’t spend it and the district will lose state aid.
“We get about 60 cents on the dollar from the state,” Bradley said.
If a referendum fails in November, it could be brought back in April. Wisconsin Act 59 limits school boards to having no more than two referendums in any calendar year. In other words, school boards are limited to asking two questions (referendums) per calendar year.
If a referendum doesn’t pass in November or April, Dahman said the district would have to prioritize its needs and plan how to reduce expenditures by $2.5 million.
Theoretically, he said, “we would dip into our fund balance, but our fund balance has gotten somewhat low. That wouldn’t be a very sound financial decision. In order to balance our budget, if we have $2.5 million less in revenue, we would have to make $2.5 million in reductions across the district.”
Potentially cost reductions could be made in three areas, he said.
“With over 80% of our costs being staff, if we’re reducing our expenditures by $2.5 million, we would have to reduce staff, which means larger class sizes,” he said.
Other potential cost reductions include a reduction in programs, which he said would mean fewer opportunities for students, and delaying building maintenance projects, which he said often in the long-run becomes more expensive.
Revenue limits have been in place statewide since 1993. They are the maximum amount of revenue that may be raised through state general aid and property tax. The maximum limit is based on enrollment changes, inflation and controlled revenue in the prior year.
“We had several years where there was no increase,” Bradley said. “There was a year where there was a decrease and for a while, the low-revenue ceiling was frozen. Milton was a low spender in the ’90s and got locked in.”
In the last two years, she said there has been some increase.
“To provide the opportunities and experiences for students that we’d like and that are available in other districts that aren’t below average in funding from the state,” he said, “the system is set up so we have to ask the taxpayers for an operating referendum.”
An April 14, 2020, article posted on the Wisconsin Education Association Council website titled “Public schools get strong vote of approval,” Christna Brey reported that since 1993, 8 in 10 districts have passed operating referendums to pay bills.
According to Dahman, a referendum for fine years gives the district some ability to have some consistency in its planning.
Costs are not going down, Dahman said, “We continue to look for efficiencies throughout our system.”
He provided examples. Recently the district established attendance areas for elementary schools and by doing so reduced the number of bus routes needed. Moving 4K into the schools eliminated the cost of renting space for 4K. Costs also were reduced through the district moving to a single health insurance provider and through changes to the district’s printer support and procurement.
Monday’s school board meet starts at 6:30 p.m. The board has been meeting in the district administration building due to the construction at the high school.