Not everyone tired of funding public education

While some might aver that the recent state budget proposal suggests Wisconsinites are tired of funding public education, the results of two North Shore referendums yesterday could be seen as proof that’s not entirely accurate.

Gov. Scott Walker wants to slash public education funding by nearly a billion dollars this next year –while raising the bar for tax money to be diverted to private and religious schools via an expanded version of the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program. At the same time he proposes reducing public school districts’ ability to make up for the loss via property tax levies.

So, it was interesting to see that two school funding referendums passed yesterday on the North Shore. Even more interesting is that voters in in one district chose to exceed the state’s revenue cap twice.

Glendale-River Hills residents were asked if the school district should be authorized to exceed state set revenue limits by $600,000 a year through the 2014-15 school year.

Fifty-six percent of voters said yes, and 44% said no.

The two municipalities are also among those covered by the Nicolet High School District, which floated a referendum of its own: “Should the school district be authorized to exceed state set revenue limits by $2.15 million a year through the 2015-2016 school year?”

That referendum passed, too, 54%-46%, and it means that voters have allowed the district to raise nearly $11 million over the next five years.

There are three K-8 districts and one high school district in the communities of Bayside, Fox Point, Glendale and River Hills and that means that homeowners in those municipalities are taxed by two school districts.

There has been talk of consolidating the districts to reduce overhead costs. According to a frequently asked questions document on the Nicolet High School Web site, such a merger is being explored but is not seen as a short-term solution for addressing the issues that the district hopes to rectify via the additional funding.

“The Nicolet School Board has directed Dr. (Rick) Monroe, Nicolet’s superintendent, to hold meetings  with representatives of the three K-8 school districts regarding consolidation. … The entire process of studying consolidation, making consolidation recommendations, holding community referendums for consolidation, and finally implementing a consolidation plan, can take a minimum of three years.

“While consolidation deserves serious evaluation because it may help Nicolet and the three K-8 school districts with costs in the long-run, it is not a short-term solution that will help the school districts right now.”

The referendum funding is meant to make up for shortfalls that have arisen in recent years due in part to declining enrollment and the disparity between the revenue limit formula and the district’s expenses, according to the document.

“This disparity created structural deficits for Wisconsin school districts over the years,” the FAQ sheet reads. “Our state’s funding formula has been fundamentally flawed, as allowable revenue increases fail to keep pace with inflation and other costs. Declining enrollment has only exacerbated the problem.”

Now that the referendum has passed, Nicolet will presumably be spared making cuts that were floated if the extra funding was not approved, including:

  • Reduction in teaching staff — increased class sizes
  • Reduction in support services (guidance and classroom aides)
  • Reductions in classroom supplies and materials
  • Reduction in capital expenditures (technology)
  • Reduction in facility expenditures (scheduled roof replacements, etc.)

It’s refreshing to see, that politics aside, voters in Wisconsin remain committed to quality public schools in their communities.

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