Is the 2008 School Referendum Just More of the Same? No!

On November 4, the Madison School Board is asking voters to vote yes on a referendum that will increase the property tax support base for Madison’s public schools by a total of $13 million after three years. For owners of a $250,000, that translates to an additional $90 in property taxes by the third year.
This is not the first school referendum in recent years. But is it just more of the same? No. The need for a referendum stems from our broken system for funding Wisconsin’s public schools, but that is where the connections end. From the earliest planning through the unanimous Board of Education vote to go to referendum, the 2008 request is a big change from what voters have seen in the past.
The referendum is about funding a community service – K12 education – that is essential to vital neighborhoods and property values, an educated workforce, and, most important, a strong start for the children and youth who hold our future in their hands.
Our proposal is one of two major elements in Superintendent Nerad’s vision of a new partnership between the Madison Metropolitan School District and its communities. The second part is commitment to a long-range planning process that will include strong community input, assessment and review of district staffing and programs, and reallocation of resources to critical areas of need.
The 2008 plan was developed with input from the community. The final proposal represents more than some people want and less than others want; all comments were taken into account by the superintendent and the board.
Additional financial steps that reduce the tax impact on homeowners:

1) Using our 2008 windfall to pay off short term debt and reduce the amount we are asking by $400,000 per year
2) enacting Fund 41 to manage on-going maintenance and protect the district from losing state aid;
3) decreasing the community service fund (Fund 80) property tax levy by $2 million for one year to offset the referendum’s property tax increases;
4) revising our financial forecasts so that the referendum asks only for what we believe we will need; and,
5) using a recurring referendum so that the district will not face the significant new gap that would occur after a fixed-term referendum.

The 2008 referendum does not fix the way that Wisconsin pays for public schools, which has not worked for Madison or other communities. The referendum does not restore programs that were among the $35 million in budget cuts made by the board in the past 5 years, nor does it include new programs. It is one step in our ongoing work to balance school needs with taxpayer means under state laws.