November 3, 2023 at 11:50 a.m.

Barneveld school tax levy approved, future of district discussed

By John Dalton

At its October 25 Annual Meeting and Budget Hearing, the Barneveld School District approved its 2023-2024 total tax levy.  

The electors voted to hold the tax levy equal to last year at $3,143,260.  

The mill rate will be at $8.93 and will provide a 10% decrease from last year’s mill rate at $9.97.  Over the last five years, the mill rate has decreased by 25% from $11.98 to $8.93.  

A document provided to attendees stated:

“Like most schools, funding is a major issue across the board and Barneveld is no different which is why the upcoming Operating Referendum in 2024 is critical to keep the school district fiscally operational.  

“The district will continue to show fiscal responsibility by:   decreasing long-term debt interest and principal with a new defeasance plan; utilizing short-term borrowing only when necessary (once this year); preparing for a 2024 Operating Referendum to accomplish three goals:

-Pay expenses without using the Fund Balance

-Support our amazing students, programs and staff

-Provide an opportunity to add to the Fund Balance each year.”

Many in attendance expressed that the budget numbers are confusing to the general public.  One suggestion was a School Finance 101 presentation of some sort to help the numbers make sense.  

Superintendent Robyn Oberfoell pointed out many points in her outline and the most critical question was ‘if the school district closes, will we save money?’  The answer is ‘the community will still pay taxes to a school district, just not to Barneveld.’  

In an effort to educate the public in School Finance 101, Oberfoell noted that the Barneveld Shopper the past two months has provided more school information to help in this effort.  In last week’s Shopper there was a chart that took a look at the history of spending limits through the eyes of a student in the class of 2023.  

In that chart it looked at a 4k student in 2009-2010 who was already $75 behind due to inflation.  Because of revenue limits, state aid cuts, a sharp rise in referendum questions and dollars, Covid-19 pandemic, soaring inflation rates, revenue limits being frozen, that student was $3,235 the amount behind inflation by the time that student graduated.  

“Take that amount and multiply it by the number of students and it’s obvious that school district cannot combat inflation without adequate funding and new revenue sources,” Oberfoell said.  She added that  Barneveld is one of the only schools left who has not done an operating referendum and cannot operate any longer without one.    

Oberfoell, following up on action taken a the last board meeting, issued a reminder to the community that a survey will be mailed out in November looking for input on various topics, not just the referendum.  The board hopes to have those returned no later than Thanksgiving and the results will be shared at the board meeting in December.  

The community survey will help the school board prioritize school programs for reductions and cuts, as well as guide planning for staff reductions or reassignments.  

School finance reform is needed and not coming soon enough.  said  Oberfoell as she emphasized that the community must focus on its students and the school district.  Last year the school district asked the community for a $3.5 million dollar referendum to span over three years in order to maintain programs and services,to  retain staff members who dedicate each day to serving  students, and to operate  facilities and transportation services.  

The board asked and listened and implemented some of the suggestions, including eliminating transportation for co-op sports, eliminating free in-town transportation, using volunteers for events, increasing fees for registration technology, courses, athletics, activities and food service.  But these changes weren’t enough and failing to pass the last referendum only added to costs and expenses because the district had to borrow more and longer for cash purposes.  

In other board action, the board passed Resolution B authorizing the Transportation of Students and purchase of school vehicles.  

It approved Resolution C to fix salaries of School Board members.  Board members are to be paid $50 per Board Meeting to include both Regular and Special Board Meetings and $45 for all School Board Committee Meetings attended.  

Approval of Resolution D to Reimburse Board Members expenses for mileage and actual expenses when traveling outside the school district for the purpose of School Board business.  

Approval of Resolution E authorizing Food Service and Wisconsin Milk Program to furnish school meals and to participate in the Wisconsin Morning Milk Program and to provide to any and all students of the district at such cost set by the board.  

Approved also was the next Annual Meeting for October 23, 2024 at 7:00 p.m.