School districts in Wisconsin would face new limits on when they can take funding requests to voters, under a bill being considered at the Capitol.
The legislation, proposed by Rep. Michael Schraa (R-Oshkosh) and Sen. Duey Stroebel (R-Saukville), would limit school district referendum questions to only being placed on ballots during spring and fall general elections. If a question were to fail, it would also prevent districts from bringing it back to voters for at least one year.
During a hearing on the bill Thursday at the Capitol, Schraa told a legislative committee that the bill is needed in order to prevent school districts from abusing the referenda process to obtain the outcome they desire. He said districts will often try to schedule those ballot measure for elections where turn-out may be low and, if it fails, keep bringing it back with smaller and smaller requests until the spending request passes. He asked lawmakers “to be able to pass a referendum for millions of dollars, and you may only have a hundred people turn out…do you think that’s fair for the rest of the taxpayers in that district?”
The bill faced a long line of opposition from school district administrators and board members, who criticized lawmakers for trying to restrict the local control of elected school boards. Green Lake School District administrator Ken Bates argued that lawmakers have forced them to rely more on referendums, thanks to revenue caps and reductions in state aid. “If the Legislature is not willing to provide local school districts with resources to meet mandated or inflationary costs, it shouldn’t preclude them from using the only means available for budget solvency…an appeal to the local taxpayers,” he argued.
Critics also said the bill could delay important votes on vital repairs or expansions, driving up costs for them if they have to wait a year to bring a failed measure back to voters. The bill does provide exceptions for emergency situations, such as for repairs prompted by a disaster.
The bill is currently being considered by the Assembly Education Committee.