Voters throughout the state demonstrated strong support Tuesday for their local public schools by approving dozens of referendums to fund quality education and provide improved facilities. According to the Department of Public Instruction, 55 of 71 referendums, or 77%, passed. Many of the referendums passed by large margins, often exceeding 65% of the vote.
One of the largest referendums to pass was in Ellsworth, where voters approved nearly $32 million to construct and equip a new 4-year-old kindergarten through grade 5 elementary school with administrative offices. It passed by a 56-46 margin.
“Wisconsin educators have shifted the focus to our communities, classrooms and schools to make a difference for our students,” said WEAC President Betsy Kippers. “It is clear that educators are respected in their communities and our voices are trusted.
“I’m thankful to be part of victories that will keep schoolhouse doors open, as is the case in Albany,” she said. “Had the Albany referendum failed, the district would have likely been divided by 2017, with pieces of it sent to surrounding districts and leave the heart of the Albany community broken.
“Voters are opting to raising taxes on themselves to provide opportunities for children because our state leaders have turned their backs on public schools,” Kippers said. “It’s time to stop the madness and elect lawmakers who value public schools like the rest of Wisconsin does.”
State Superintendent Tony Evers said the large number of referendum questions are being prompted by budgetary shortfalls as state support for PK-12 education stagnates.
“That is forcing school boards to ask local taxpayers to shoulder more of the cost to educate their children. It troubles me to see the difference between ‘have’ districts that can pass referenda, and ‘have-not’ districts that are unsuccessful,” Evers said. “As a state, we have a constitutional obligation to provide an equal opportunity to access a free public education system. I fear our current pathway puts us at odds with that guarantee.” Read Evers’ entire statement.
Some of the other referendums that were approved include:
- OSHKOSH: $28 million to exceed the revenue cap on a non-recurring basis by $4 million for seven years.
- MEDFORD: Two referendums totaling $4.2 million for a facilities improvements and upgrading the pool.
- MONONA GROVE: $13 million ($2.6 million for each of the next five years) for costs associated with curriculum, technology, personnel, maintenance, equipment purchases, and facility improvements.
- NICOLET UNION HIGH SCHOOL: $18.9 million to exceed the revenue limit by $3.15 million for six years for non-recurring purposes.
- STURGEON BAY: Up to $6.8 million over three years for non-recurring purposes for students’ educational programming.
- PORTAGE: $13 million to increase the revenue limit by $2.6 million per year for the next five years.
- MONTELLO: $3.6 million ($1.2 million in each of the next three years) to maintain instructional programming.
- RIO: $2.7 million to exceed the revenue limit for three years for operating purposes.
- ALBANY: $1.2 million to exceed revenue limits over the next three years.
- BRODHEAD: $2.8 million over three years to exceed the revenue limit to maintain facilities and programs, and for debt retirement.
- GREEN LAKE: $2.4 million to exceed the revenue limit by $550,000 a year for 2016-18, and then by $650,000 a year for 2018-20 to fund operational costs for programs, staffing and technology.
- ASHLAND: $33.3 million for a school building and improvement program at all district facilities and grounds consisting of: additions for classrooms and learning space; remodeling and modernization of facilities; energy efficiency and management system upgrades; technology, safety and security improvements, including secure main entrances; construction of a new fieldhouse; parking and site improvements; and acquiring furnishings, fixtures and equipment.
- HUDSON: $82 million for two referendums for additions, renovations and upgrades to the Middle School and High School.
- MENOMONEE FALLS: $32 million for a district-wide facility improvement program.
- MICHICOT: $10 million for a school improvement program at district buildings consisting of: technology improvements, plumbing, HVAC and electrical infrastructure improvements; student instructional spaces, restroom, office, corridor, athletic space and kitchen renovations and remodeling; a locker room addition and renovations; door replacement; and acquisition of furnishings, fixtures and equipment.
- MUKWONAGO: $49.5 million for a school building and improvement program at Mukwonago High School.
- MUSKEGO-NORWAY: $43 million to build a new middle school on district-owned property and construct additions and renovations to other existing school buildings.
- PRAIRIE DU CHIEN: $4.5 million over three years for non-recurring expenses, and $18.9 million for building projects.
- WINNECONNE: $12.5 million for a school building improvement program at the Winneconne High School – addition to and renovation of the Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math (STEAM) facilities and construction of related improvements; addition of an auditorium; acquiring furniture, fixtures & equipment.
The complete list of school referendums can be found HERE.
Voters in many school districts also elected school board members. In one of the high-profile elections, candidates recommended by the Racine Education Association – Racine Educational Assistants Association won a majority on the school board. Read more:
RACINE – Union-backed candidates appeared to pull off shocking victories and decisively take control of the Racine Unified School Board in Tuesday’s election, spelling trouble for key initiatives from district administrators. Unofficial results showed tight races across the district on Tuesday night, but candidates supported by the Racine Education Association appeared to be ahead of their administration-aligned competitors in most races.
Notable school board successes also occurred in Wausau, River Falls and West Allis.
Some other regional, state and national races in which WEAC and affiliates were engaged didn’t see the same outcome. Hillary Clinton, the NEA-recommended presidential candidate, came in narrowly behind Bernie Sanders in the primary. Judge JoAnne Kloppenburg, recommended by WEAC for the State Supreme Court, was edged out by Rebecca Bradley for the state’s highest court.
“Voters have done their part to weigh in through the presidential primary, and the process will continue throughout the nation,” Kippers said. “There’s a lot more to come before November’s General Election. WEAC, through the NEA, will continue to spread the word among our members of Hillary Clinton’s strong support of early childhood education, college affordability and public schools.”
As far as the Wisconsin Supreme Court, Kippers signaled serious concerns about the future of Wisconsin. “The theory that our state must have three separate branches of government to ensure fairness and provide checks and balances is in jeopardy,” she said.
In Milwaukee, a supporter of school takeovers was elected county executive despite the best efforts of the Milwaukee Teachers’ Education Association members, parents and other public school supporters.
“Win or lose, the issues impacting students, educators and public schools aren’t going anywhere,” Kippers said. “Our union will continue to unite around the best candidates and solutions for public schools and devote ourselves to advancing opportunity for our students.”