Governor Walker Indicates Support for Referenda Restrictions

As Governor Walker toured northern Wisconsin this week  WJFW Newswatch 12 in Rhinelander asked the governor about the proposals (Assembly Bill 481/Senate Bill 355) to restrict school referendums during a stop in Iron County:

The governor said he supports holding referendums on normal election days.

“I think it’s important that people have a chance on normally scheduled elections, when they anticipate a vote being taken on other issues, so that it’s not something that the taxpayers are caught off guard on or surprised by,” Walker says.

Walker didn’t say whether he would support making schools wait two years to try again if a referendum fails.

The WASB has posted about our opposition to these bills and has provided sample materials for boards to use (and some have).

The rationale from the co-sponsorship memo makes it clear the authors want to crack down on school districts manipulating the process to pass more referenda on special election dates.  However, the data do not back this up.  According to the MacIver Institute (WASB has not independently confirmed these figures):

The MacIver Institute examined 211 school district referendums across Wisconsin from the past two years. That includes all questions from November 2013 through October 2015, for which DPI has recorded results. This information is available through DPI’s website.

Of those 211 referendums, 142 passed and 69 failed – an approval rate of 67 percent. Most were held during general elections (81 percent).

The most successful referendums were held during primary elections (passage rate of 79 percent), followed by general elections (66 percent). Special elections succeeded 62.5 percent of the time. There’s no difference between the success rates of fall and spring general elections.

Conversely, special elections resulted in the highest rate of failure for referendums. 37.5 percent of referendums held during special elections fail.

WASB believes that school boards should continue to have the flexibility to make these decisions locally without state interference.  If your board agrees, we urge you to contact your legislators using the  WASB sample materials.  Click here to use the “find my legislators” feature.

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