The only school district referendum on the Feb. 19 Spring Primary ballot passed easily.
Voters in the Northland Pines School District (Vilas County) approved a non-recurring referendum to increase the district’s state- imposed revenue limit by $4.6 million in each of the next three years. The margin was 1,230 in favor and 630 opposed.
The size of the referendum request illustrates the seriousness of the impact of revenue limits for districts like Northland Pines and many others. The Northland Pines board requested voter approval of this amount simply to maintain existing programs and operations.
Because non-recurring referendums provide only temporarily relief from revenue limits and because costs increase over time, school boards and districts find themselves in a position of having to go to district voters with increasingly larger requests when those temporary referendums expire. The alternative is significant—some would say devastating—cuts to school district programs and staff.
The Legislature has not provided a per pupil adjustment in revenue limits since the 2014-15 school year, limiting school districts’ ability to raise additional funds locally, except by obtaining referendum approval from voters.
The non-partisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau described the recent history of revenue limit adjustment as follows:
- “Traditionally, additional financial resources were provided (annually) to districts under revenue limits through the per pupil adjustment under the revenue limit calculation. School boards would have the ability to levy for any additional revenue limit authority, with the state providing support either through general school aids or the school levy tax credit to fund school district operations and reduce the local levy. This method allows for some combination of state and local contribution to K-12 funding. Since 2014-15, no per pupil adjustment has been provided under revenue limits.”
Both the DPI budget request Gov. Evers’ submitted when he was state superintendent and the final recommendations of the Blue Ribbon Commission on School Funding call for annual per pupil adjustments to revenue limits that are indexed to inflation. Both also call for providing an offsetting increase in general school aids to mitigate the potential increase in school property taxes from such adjustments. Both set a goal to have the state fund two-thirds of school costs.
The Blue Ribbon Commission additionally recommended allowing districts to generate additional revenue by weighting low-income and English language learner pupils as 1.2 FTE in the formula for calculating revenue limits.
The lack of any recent per pupil adjustments to revenue limits is an issue school leaders should be prepared to speak with legislators about when the Governor’s proposed 2019-21 budget is introduced next Thursday (Feb. 28) and on March 13 at the WASB’s Day at the Capitol event. We recommend you plan to come prepared to explain how revenue limits are affecting your district’s ability to provide and/or maintain programs for students.