IN OUR OPINION: School board shouldn’t have to beg voters to raise their own taxes

By Dan Rossmiller and Chris Kulow

Across the state, 249 school districts (nearly 60%) already depend upon voter-approved referendums to maintain their programs and services for students.

How did we get to a situation where so many school districts have to beg voters to tax themselves more heavily to keep the school doors open, let alone to maintain adequate staffing levels?

  Since the mid-90s, school district spending in Wisconsin has been tightly controlled by state-imposed revenue limits. These limits have eroded local control of school boards and restricted what schools can spend on teachers, textbooks or other instructional materials, supplies, transportation, facilities and all the other things schools need to operate. These limits would not necessarily be a problem if the state allowed reasonable increases over time. Declining enrollments add to the problem.

  Wisconsin’s per pupil school funding model means for each student lost, several thousand dollars are lost to the school district. You may be thinking, “If the schools have fewer students, their costs should be proportionally lower as well.” That’s not necessarily the case. For example, the school district still needs to pay the second-grade teacher whether they have 15 or 25 kids in that classroom. Whether there are 40 students on the bus or 50 the cost of operating the bus is the same.

  Over a decade ago, Act 10 was implemented and gave school boards the ability to cut costs by requiring employees to contribute higher shares of health insurance premiums and state retirement contributions.

  Act 10 also created challenges for schools partly because when it was implemented, public school districts received a funding cut of $554 per student on average.

  Since 2009, the state has not provided increases in spendable resources to schools that met inflation in any school year. In three separate school years, no additional dollars were provided to schools.

  According to the non-partisan Legislative Reference Bureau, since Act 10 was passed in 2011, allowable school spending trails inflation by $2,236.60 per student.

It is little wonder that an increasing number of districts find themselves reliant on referendums to stay afloat. Last year, Wisconsin school districts placed 92 referendums on the ballot for basic operating expenses, the highest total ever.

(A funding referendum for the Northern Ozaukee School District is on the April 4 ballot.)

  Few, if any, school board members ran for that office so they could decide which school programs to cut due to insufficient revenue. But this is what unstable, unpredictable school funding has brought about. It’s time to follow, without delay, the top recommendation of the state Legislature’s 2019 Blue Ribbon Commission on School Funding and return to providing our local public schools with resources that meet inflation.

Dan Rossmiller and Chris Kulow are director of government relations and government relations specialist at the Wisconsin Association of School Boards.


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Ozaukee Press

Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

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Port Washington, WI 53074
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