When they go to the polls on Nov. 8, voters in 21 school districts will see at least one operating referendum to exceed revenue limits on their ballot. Voters in four districts–Fort Atkinson, McFarland, Monroe, and Turtle Lake—will see two operating referendum questions.
Already this year, voters have approved 37 of 46 (80%) of the operating referendum questions put before them in districts across the state. This includes 27 of 33 non-recurring questions (82%) and 10 of 13 recurring questions (77%). If voters in just 12 districts approve their ballot questions, it will set a new record for the number of districts passing referendums to exceed the revenue limits in one year. The current record (47 districts) was set in 2014.
Revenue limits were first imposed on schools in the 1993-94 school year. For most of the period these limits have been in place, lawmakers have authorized an annual per pupil adjustment aligned to inflation (i.e., to increases in the U.S. Consumer Price Index (CPI)). The 2016-17 school year, however, marks the second straight year in which no per pupil adjustment in revenue limits is provided.
With revenue limits essentially frozen, districts wishing to hang on to their best teachers and administrators are starting to look to operating referendums as a way to generate additional revenue to fund their pay plans, whether those plans are performance-based or simply seek to maintain competitive employee compensation in the face of competition from other districts.
In the Oregon School District, the school board is seeking approval of a recurring referendum to exceed revenue limit in order to provide a permanent $1.5 million increase for employee compensation. Similarly, the Eau Claire School Board is seeking approval of a recurring referendum to provide funding for staff compensation and class size reduction, as well as for other items such as technology, building maintenance, safety and security improvements, and debt service for capital improvement projects.