Public schools get strong vote of approval

This photo posted after the Racine Unified School District passed its referendum by five votes shows some of the students and families who will benefit from investments in education around the state.

Wisconsin Public Schools got a strong vote of approval in the April General Election, with 91 percent of the school referendums passing. Only five of the 57 referendum questions failed.

The need for school districts to go to voters for basic operating costs, maintenance and building has steadily mounted over more than a decade, as voters are asked to step in when state policies fail to meet the needs of students. In total, 48 of Wisconsin’s 421 public schools – about 10 percent of all Wisconsin districts – held a total of 57 referendums on April 7.

WEAC members were involved in many of the passing referendums, including two of the largest in the state, Racine Unified and Milwaukee Public Schools. Critical needs were highlighted across the state, as well, with victories in places like Cudahy and Kettle Moraine.

Students in districts with passing referendums will see upgraded facilities, new technology and more investment in learning including attracting and keeping high-quality, certified teachers.

“Whether rural, suburban or urban schools, WEAC members are leading the way to make sure our students have resources, opportunities and safe places to learn,” said WEAC President Ron “Duff” Martin. “Through WEAC, educators stand together and with our communities to advocate for the referendums that make that happen. Congratulations to all educators who experienced victory in this election.”

In communities where referendums weren’t successful, there are tough decisions that will need to be made. “Heartbreaking decisions will force communities to decide what to keep and what to do without, and that represents lost student opportunities,” Martin said. “Fewer educators means less one-on-one attention. Technology cuts widen the digital divide. Make no mistake, children and families will notice the fallout from failed referendums.”

In Cudahy, taxpayers approved an $11.75 referendum to cover budget shortfalls, pay for maintenance like roof repairs and parking lots and increase reserves. There, the superintendent pointed to a deficit in the prior year caused in part by the Racine private school voucher program, which takes funding from public schools and transfers it to private, and open enrollment payments to other districts.

Voters in Kettle Moraine approved a referendum calling for $19 million over four years, after a referendum last year failed and resulted in $750,000 was cut.

Racine Unified voters approved the district’s referendum by five votes. Voters authorized Racine Unified to collect $1 billion beyond its state-imposed revenue limit over the next 30 years, along with funding renovation and replacement of schools.

“Thanks to the members of this union who tirelessly worked on this campaign,” said Angelina Cruz, president of Racine Educators United. “You helped to ensure the survival of this district and you are appreciated.”

The Milwaukee Public Schools’ $87 million referendum passed with 78 percent of the vote.

“Our Milwaukee community showed up for our students when it mattered, and our students deserve nothing less,” said MTEA President Amy Mizialko. “This victory will make a big difference for students in classrooms next school year and beyond.”

Statewide Referendums By-the-Numbers

48 of Wisconsin’s 421 public schools – about 10 percent of districts – held a total of 57 referendums.

The reasons schools went to referendum were about split down the middle.

  • 27 schools sought to issue debt for building or maintenance.

  • 30 districts sought to exceed their revenue limits to meet operational needs, like paying teachers and keeping the lights on.

Since 1993, 697 school referendum questions have passed.

  • 8 in 10 districts passed operating referendums since 1993 to pay bills.

The success rate is remarkable.

  • The overwhelming success is a show of support from local communities that increasingly realize the state has shifted its constitutional responsibility to fund schools to them.

  • Voters believe in the promise of public schools, and have overwhelmingly supported them even when certain lawmakers have dropped the ball.

Voters are getting tired of this cycle of referendums.

  • During the last state budget process, voters overwhelmingly supported the governor’s education funding proposal. Legislative leaders failed to take up his plan, however.

The Legislature’s school funding provisions in the most recent state budget does not get schools back to even from the severe cuts over the past decade – the hole that lawmakers have dug is too deep. That caused the need for so many referendums again this spring.

Complete Results

Passed
Ashwaubenon
$10,050,000.00
Issue Debt
Facility improvement projects across the District

Passed
Ashwaubenon
$3,650,000.00
NR – 2020
Revenue limit amount to cover student mental wellness services and operation of air conditioning

Passed
Baldwin-Woodville Area
$12,500,000.00
Issue Debt
$12,500,000 for facility upgrades

Passed
Beecher-Dunbar-Pembine
$2,875,000.00
NR – 2020
Resolution authorizing the School District Budget to exceed revenue limit by $575,000 per year for five years for non-recurring purposes.

Passed
Birchwood
$5,800,000.00
NR – 2020
Operating Referendum to exceed the revenue limit specified in Section 121.91, Wisconsin Statutes, by $530,000 for the 2020-2021 school year, and by $1,317,500 per year for the 2021-2022 school year through the 2024-2025 school year, for non-recurring purposes consisting of building and facility maintenance, student programming, curriculum materials and other ongoing operational expenses.

Failed
Cambridge
$9,900,000.00
Issue Debt
Referendum to issue debt to construct and equip a performing arts center.

Failed
Cambridge
$150,000.00
RR – 2021
Referendum to exceed the revenue limit on a recurring basis for purposes consisting of operating the performing arts center and other District operational expenses.

Passed
Cassville
$600,000.00
RR – 2020
A recurring authority of $600,000 starting with the 2020-2021 school year for recurring purposes, consisting of paying the costs of maintaining the educational programs, facilities and equipment of the District.

Passed
Cassville
$3,000,000.00
NR – 2020
The School District of Cassville, Grant County, Wisconsin, to exceed the revenue limit and by an additional $400,000 for the 2020-2021 through 2022-2023 school years, and $600,000 for the 2023-2024 through 2025-2026 school years for non-recurring purposes, consisting of paying the costs of maintaining the educational programs, facilities, and equipment of the District.

Passed
Columbus
$30,000,000.00
Issue Debt
Facilities improvements to the elementary and high school; maintenance and infrastructure improvements at all district buildings, acquisition of land; and acquisition of furnishings and equipment.

Passed
Crandon
$5,000,000.00
NR – 2020
The School District of Crandon will ask district voters to consider a referendum question to exceed the revenue limit by $1,000,000 for each of the next five years, commencing with the 2020-2021 school year.

Passed
Cudahy
$11,750,000.00
NR – 2020
Referendum to Exceed Revenue Cap for five years for non-recurring purposes for a total of $11.75 million

Passed
Denmark
$2,775,000.00
NR – 2020
Resolution authorizing the school district budget to exceed revenue limit by $925,000 per year for three years for non-recurring purposes

Passed
Dodgeland
$17,000,000.00
Issue Debt
Initial resolution authorizing general obligation bonds in an amount not to exceed $17,000,000  This is for infrastructure updates, remodeling of learning environments and classroom addition.

Failed
East Troy Community
$8,000,000.00
NR – 2020
Exceed the revenue limit by $1,600,000 for 5 years

Passed
Eleva-Strum
$1,725,000.00
NR – 2020
To be used for ongoing maintenance and educational programming.

Passed
Elk Mound Area
$15,730,000.00
Issue Debt
Initial resolution authorizing general obligation bonds in an amount not to exceed $15,730,000

Passed
Elkhorn Area
$6,920,000.00
Issue Debt
BE IT RESOLVED by the School Board of the Elkhorn Area School District, Walworth County, Wisconsin that there shall be issued pursuant to Chapter 67 of the Wisconsin Statutes, general obligation bonds in an amount not to exceed $6,920,000 for the public purpose of purchasing a building and site known as the St. Patrick School, including approximately 16.5 acres of related land located at 534 Sunset Drive, Elkhorn, Wisconsin; and renovating and equipping the building.

Passed
Elkhorn Area
$200,000.00
RR – 2020
BE IT RESOLVED by the School Board of the Elkhorn Area School District, Walworth County, Wisconsin that the revenues included in the School District budget be authorized to exceed the revenue limit specified in Section 121.91, Wisconsin Statutes, by $200,000 beginning with the 2020-2021 school year, for recurring purposes consisting of ongoing maintenance of all District facilities and technology updates.

Passed
Fort Atkinson
$9,000,000.00
NR – 2020
$3 Million Non-Recurring for 3 Years on April 7, 2020

Passed
Fort Atkinson
$2,250,000.00
RR – 2020
$2.25 Million Recurring Referendum on April 7, 2020

Passed
Green Lake
$4,385,000.00
NR – 2021
Exceed revenue limit for 4 years for non-recurring purposes consisting of operational costs and capital project costs associated with facilities maintenance

Passed
Greenwood
$4,650,000.00
NR – 2020
Resolution authorizing the school district budget to exceed revenue limit for five years for non-recurring purposes

Passed
Johnson Creek
$15,000,000.00
Issue Debt
2020 Elementary school addition to the Johnson Creek MS/HS

Passed
Kettle Moraine
$7,000,000.00
RR – 2020
Exceed inequitable revenue caps

Failed
Luck
$9,850,000.00
Issue Debt
General obligations bonds

Passed
Mequon-Thiensville
$55,700,000.00
Issue Debt
Referendum for the purpose of paying the cost of a District-wide school facilities improvement project consisting of:  District-wide safety, security, site and ADA improvements and renovations; construction of additions at the Elementary and Middle Schools and acquisitions of furnishings, fixtures and equipment.

Passed
Milwaukee
$87,000,000.00
RR – 2020
Resolution authorizing the school
district budget to exceed revenue
limit for recurring purposes

Passed
Neenah
$114,900,000.00
Issue Debt
Construct a new high school, district-wide safety and security, renovating the existing high school to convert it into an intermediate school and a middle school.

Passed
Nekoosa
$2,900,000.00
Issue Debt
Replace the track, replace football/soccer field, update the softball field, improve other athletic infrastructure

Passed
Nekoosa
$10,000,000.00
NR – 2020
Maintain/improve current programs and services, add staff to support struggling families, add teacher and upgrade tech ed equipment, add teacher to help K-5 students who are not meeting grade level math learning targets, add teacher to virtual program.

Passed
New Holstein
$8,000,000.00
Issue Debt
Renovate the elementary school, high school science classrooms, site improvements, purchase of furnishings, fixtures, and equipment.

Passed
Oostburg
$7,500,000.00
Issue Debt
Renovations and remodeling for a theater in the current gymnasium location and expansion of the library and cafeteria/kitchen; construction of an addition for a new gymnasium, fitness/weight room and classrooms; updates to the office and entry to enhance safety and security; building infrastructure and site improvements; and acquisition of furnishings, fixtures and equipment.

Passed
Osceola
$2,000,000.00
NR – 2020
Operational – $1,000,000 each year for a period of two (2) years on a non-recurring basis for the purpose of supporting each child’s success and providing a safe environment by supporting District operation costs including curriculum, utilities, educational programming, technology, and transportation.

Passed
Osceola
$10,000,000.00
Issue Debt
Facilities Needs – $10,000,000 for the purpose of paying the costs of capital maintenance projects at the high school, middle school and intermediate school.

Passed
Osseo-Fairchild
$3,900,000.00
Issue Debt
Paying the costs of improvements to the District’s buildings and grounds and equipment acquisition including: building and site maintenance projects; expansion and remodeling of technical education spaces and acquisition of related equipment; and district-wide technology upgrades and replacements.

Passed
Osseo-Fairchild
$3,150,000.00
NR – 2020
Paying District operating costs as follows: $575,000 for the 2020-21 school year, $725,000 for the 2021-22 school year, $875,000 for the 2022-23 school year and $975,000 for the 2023-24 school year.

Passed
Parkview
$3,000,000.00
NR – 2020
Operational Non-Recurring Referendum for technology, curriculum, programming, bus routes, and recruiting and retaining staff

Passed
Phillips
$9,860,000.00
Issue Debt
Construction of additional classrooms and expansion and renovation of the Middle/High School Building.  Upgrades and site improvements along with potential demolition of a portion of Phillips Elementary School along with acquisitions of furnishings, fixtures, and equipment.

Passed
Pittsville
$6,700,000.00
Issue Debt
Acquisition of land for and the construction of a new CTE facility, replacement of portion of Elementary School roof and replacement of backup boiler at High School.

Passed
Racine
$1,072,500,000.00
NR – 2020
For non-recurring purposes consisting of building modernization, land acquisition, enhancements for student career pathway programs, safety improvements, furnishings and equipment, technology, and debt service for new building and other capital improvement projects.

Passed
Saint Croix Falls
$14,000,000.00
Issue Debt
To pay for the cost of a school building and improvement program, consisting of constructing new, as well as remodeling and capital improvements of existing facilities.

Passed
Sauk Prairie
$64,985,000.00
Issue Debt
Paying the cost of school buildings renovations, outdoor facilities and improvement programs

Passed
Siren
$900,000.00
NR – 2020
Operating referendum

Passed
Southwestern Wisconsin
$2,500,000.00
Issue Debt
Improvements to elementary playground to allow access for handicapped or students in a wheelchair along with improvements to athletic field, updated football field, baseball and softball fields and add a new track for students/community to use.

Passed
Spooner
$16,000,000.00
Issue Debt
District wide infrastructure, safety and security and ADA improvements. Academic and cafetorium additions at SES, demolition of the small MS gym and acquisition of related furnishings, fixtures and equipment.

Passed
Sturgeon Bay
$16,840,000.00
Issue Debt
Issue debt for an addition and remodeling of Sawyer Elementary School, safety and security upgrades at the High School/District Offices, the closing of and possible removal of Sunrise Elementary, CTE area upgrades, and necessary bathrooms remodeling to become ADA compliant.

Passed
Suring
$4,500,000.00
NR – 2020
For the purpose of paying District operation and maintenance costs and upgrades and enhancements to facilities and equipment, technology, curriculum and technical education.

Unavailable at this time
Viroqua Area
$2,750,000.00
NR – 2020
Exceed Revenue Cap for educational and maintaining district facilities.

Failed – This is close and could change
Waterford UHS
$95,000.00
RR – 2020
The School Board of the Waterford Union High School District has passed a resolution to provide for a referendum election that the final school district budget shall include an amount not to exceed $95,000 in excess of the revenue limits imposed by Section 121.91 of the Wisconsin Statutes each year beginning with the 2020-21 school
year on a recurring basis for the purpose of paying the costs of the salary, benefits and operational expenses associated with a school resource officer.

Passed
Wauzeka-Steuben
$954,000.00
NR – 2020
Non-Recurring 3-year Operational Referendum

Passed
Webster
$6,500,000.00
Issue Debt
Construction of an addition to expand the career and technical education area of the Middle/High School; parking lot, athletic facility and site improvements at the Middle/High School; renovations, improvements and technology updates at the Elementary School  and the Middle/High School; and acquisition of furnishings, fixtures and equipment.

Passed
White Lake
$3,500,000.00
NR – 2020
For operating expenses and maintenance/building projects and upgrades.

Passed
Winter
$4,000,000.00
Issue Debt
Facility upgrades

Passed
Wonewoc-Union Center
$4,560,000.00
Issue Debt
Paying the cost of a school building repair and improvement program consisting of: safety and security upgrades, ADA compliance updates, maintenance and building infrastructure improvements, career/technology spaces, science labs, building-wide HVAC, cafeteria improvements, site improvements, and acquisition of related furnishing, fixtures, and equipment.

Passed
Wonewoc-Union Center
$195,000.00
RR – 2020
Referendum to exceed the revenue limit by $195,000 to be used for operational purposes.

Passed
Wrightstown Community
$28,700,000.00
Issue Debt
Initial resolution authorizing general obligation bonds in an amount not to exceed $28,700,000.

List Source: Wheeler Report