March 1, 2024 at 10:45 a.m.

Funding shifts force school districts to referenda

By Mary Glindinning 

Public schools are essential to democracy and central to why the state of Wisconsin exists, a speaker told about 50 people Sunday afternoon, February 18 at Merrimac and Main Center in Dodgeville.

Julie Mead, professor emerita in the department of educational leadership and policy analysis at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, said more of the tax burden for public schools has shifted from state to local sources. 

And that is why school districts are asking voters for money in operating referenda. 

“The fact that 90 districts have to have referenda this spring is frankly scary,” Mead said. Operating referenda are a sign “our Legislature isn’t paying attention, because it means school boards don’t have enough money to maintain the programs they have.” 

Since 1994, more than 80 percent of school districts have gone to referendum at least once, and most multiple times.

In CESA 3, 27 of 31 districts went to referendum in the last two years or foresee one in the next two years. Voters approve a majority of the referenda. 

Capital referendum questions are for construction or renovation, while operating referendums ask for money for ongoing costs. 

(See the rest of this story in the February 29 Chronicle issue)