Southern Door Schools place referendum on November ballot

Southern Door School District is looking for voters' permission to collect $975,000 above the state limit for the next three years. The referendum will be on the November ballot and would extend through the 2022-2023 school year. This is not the first time Southern Door has made the request to district residents, with the most recent referendum ending in June. They are a common funding tool for districts in the area and across the state. According to a recent district press release, over 80 percent of Wisconsin school districts have raised property taxes via a public vote. 

The need for referendums is tied to the formula the Department of Public Instruction uses to set funding limits for districts. Property taxes account for around 50% of the budget, with state aid contributing roughly 45%. To ensure that poorer areas can keep up with more affluent districts, the state sets those two funding sources against each other. Districts with lower property values get more state aid and vice versa. It is designed so that spending is equalized per student throughout Wisconsin. The only way to get around the limit in state aid is to gain approval from voters. Superintendent Patti Vickman says the district's research suggests the referendum will be successful.


Vickman notes that due to recent property value increases, the mill rate for district residents will not be increasing. The full press release is below.




To continue providing a high-quality education to its students, the Southern Door County School District is asking voters for a little help. The Board of Education has placed a referendum question on the November 3 ballot, asking voters to allow the district to exceed its state-set revenue limits by $975,000 for each of three (3) years, starting this school year. The additional revenue would allow the District to sustain current programs and meet emerging needs. Specifically, it would fund educational programs and student services such as mental health, update curriculum materials, maintain technology, and address staffing needs such as sufficient salaries and benefits to attract and keep quality employees.
If approved, the $975,000 operating referendum would comprise $.76 of the tax mill rate (the amount of taxes per $1000 of property value) each of the next three years. However, because the District’s mill rate is dropping, an approved referendum would result in no increase to the net mill rate compared to last year.
Public schools in Wisconsin are funded with a combination of revenues, including local property taxes and various state and federal education aids. Under a 1993 state law, there is a cap, or limit, on the amount a school district can collect from local property taxes and state aid. The only way to increase revenue is to have an increase in overall district enrollment, or go to local taxpayers to ask for an operating referendum to exceed the district’s revenue cap.
Because of the state limits, school districts throughout Wisconsin have struggled to maintain programs, as revenues have not kept up with costs to maintain current services. Nearly 80% of all Wisconsin school districts have pursued operating referendums to exceed the revenue caps, and all the other Door County school districts have had voters approve operating referendums.
In 2018, voters gave Southern Door County School District the authority to exceed the revenue limits in an operating referendum. That community investment allowed the District to secure the necessary
technology and professional development for Southern Door students and staff to be well prepared for today’s challenges in education with on-site and virtual learning needs. That authority expired in June 2020, so the District must take a new operating referendum to voters.
If the November 3 referendum does not pass, the district will be forced to make additional cuts to
programs to reduce its budget shortfall.


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