The La Crosse School District will ask voters April 3 to invest in retaining smaller elementary class sizes, updated technology for all students and enhanced school safety features throughout the district.
School officials say that if approved, the $4.175 million referendum can be implemented with no increase in the local school tax rate based on current levels.
In fact, the gross mill rate, before the state tax credits, is the lowest it has been since 2009-2010. It has decreased more than 10 percent in the last four years — even with the current operating referendum in place.
We think that’s a wise investment that deserves voter approval.
The district is asking voters to approve exceeding state-mandated limits by $4.175 million per year for five years.
The existing operating referendum that raised a similar amount will expire in June 2019, and the school board is working on long-range planning to maintain programming and a neutral tax impact at the same time.
If approved April 3, most of the money from the referendum will enhance education programming.
Here’s an example: Approval of this referendum means the district can hold classrooms in kindergarten through third-grade to 18 or fewer. Early childhood learning is crucial for long-term success, and having more individualized instruction at younger ages pays terrific dividends.
Approval also means the district can increase Internet bandwidth, update computer labs, increase one-to-one technology for students and upgrade technology in district buildings.
Passage of the referendum also will mean the district can continue improving the safety and security in its buildings.
The vote April 3 would fund an operating referendum – that means it’s a pay-as-you-go process that will not incur debt.
In recent years, voters in the La Crosse School District have approved capital referendums for building improvements (HVAC, some safety features) and construct Northside Elementary, which has quickly become a community cornerstone for the North Side of La Crosse.
If voters reject this referendum, it will mean substantial budget cuts.
For example, the district will increase the number of students per classroom, reduce course offerings and cut staff positions. None of those things will improve the quality of education.
Voting down the referendum also will mean the district must delay replacing outdated technology and postpone or eliminate projects designed to maintain the district’s 16 buildings – 21 if you include charters.
It’s important to note a couple of factors.
In this day of open enrollment, vouchers and increased competition for students, the La Crosse School District has gained 65 students through open enrollment this school year. That’s a positive sign. During the past 10 years, the number of students who have taken advantage of open enrollment to attend La Crosse public schools has more than doubled — from 162 in 2007 to 333 in 2017.
Overall, enrollment has dropped a bit – as has the projected amount of state funding.
We’ve also been very impressed with the district’s innovation and community outreach.
Among its successes, the district has been an active partner in the La Crosse Promise, which provides educational incentive to families who invest in core La Crosse neighborhoods.
We believe the district has made a variety of positive steps to earn voter trust and warrant the investment in $4.175 million per year for five years.