Members of the Madison School Board will ask city taxpayers to help finance the Madison Metropolitan School District budget, voting Monday night to move forward with a school referendum.
The referendum will be on the ballot on Election Day, Nov. 4.
Superintendent Dan Nerad outlined a recommendation last week for the board to approve a recurring referendum asking to exceed revenue limits by $5 million during the 2009-10 school year, $4 million for 2010-11 and $4 million for 2011-12. With a recurring referendum, the authority afforded by the community continues permanently, as opposed to other referendums that conclude after a period of time.
Accounting initiatives that would soften the impact on taxpayers were also approved Monday.
One part of the initiative would return $2 million to taxpayers from the Community Services Fund, which is used for afterschool programs. The second part of the initiative would spread the costs of facility maintenance projects over a longer period.
Madison School District voters on Nov. 4 will be asked to approve permanent tax increases in the district to head off projected multimillion-dollar budget shortfalls.
In a pair of 7-0 votes, the Madison School Board on Monday night approved a proposal from Superintendent Daniel Nerad to hold a referendum and to adopt a series of accounting measures to reduce their effect on taxpayers.
Nerad said the district would work “day and night” to meet with residents and make information available about the need for the additional money to avert what school officials say would be devastating cuts in programs and services beginning in 2009-10, when the projected budget shortfall is $8.1 million.
“I understand this goes to the community to see if this is something they support. We’re going to do our best to provide good information,” said Nerad.
Some citizens who spoke at Monday’s meeting echoed the sentiments of board members and school officials.
“Our schools are already underfunded,” said one man.
However, others spoke against the plan. “This is virtually a blank check from taxpayers.
Superintendent Dan Nerad had to act quickly to put the plan together, facing the $8 million shortfall in his first few days on the job.
“I will never hesitate to look for where we can become more efficient and where we can make reductions,” said Nerad. “But I think we can say $8 million in program cuts, if it were only done that way, would have a significant impact on our kids.”
The plan was highly praised by most board members, but not by everyone who attended the meeting.
“This virtually gives the board a blank check from all of Madison’s taxpayers’ checkbooks,” said Madison resident David Glomp. “It may very well allow the school board members to never have to do the heavy lifting of developing a real long-term cost saving.”
“We need to respect the views of those who disagree with us and that doesn’t mean they’re anti-school or anti-kids,” says board member Ed Hughes.
Board members stressed, the additional money would not be used to create new programs, like 4-year-old kindergarten.
“What’s a miracle is that our schools are continuing to function and I think that’s the conversation happening around Wisconsin, now, says board vice president Lucy Mathiak. “How much longer can we do this?”
The referendum question will appear on the November 4th general election ballot.
The board will discuss its educational campaign at its September 8th meeting.