Facing a budget shortfall averaging more than $575,000 in each of the next three years the Board of Education voted 6-1 to move forward with a referendum on the spring election ballot asking residents to allow the school district to exceed state imposed revenue limits for the next three years.
Late last year the school reached out to all district residents, via a districtwide survey, to see if there was enough community support to hold a referendum vote in the spring of 2018. After reviewing the survey data, the finance committee recommended to the full school board at its monthly meeting on Jan. 8 to move forward with a resolution to hold a referendum on April 3.
The grand total of the tax levy increase being proposed on the referendum is $1,725,000 and would be dispersed over a three year period. The tax levy would increase by $275,000 the first year (2018-2019); $575,000 the second year (2019-2020); and $875,000 the third year (2020-2021).
The three year operational referendum will generate enough revenue to maintain status quo and would not impact property taxes until 2019 if it is approved in April.
The School Board employed the services of School Perceptions LLC to conduct the districtwide survey. The survey educated the community on what the district needs and also gathered data and feedback on potential solutions to the deficit, including taxpayer support for a spring operational referendum.
At the December monthly board meeting, Sue Peterson from School Perceptions discussed the results of the community survey. A total of 3,669 surveys were mailed out and 825 surveys were returned. The participation rate was 22 percent, which far exceeded the average participation rate of 16 percent.
The data received back was split into three mutually exclusive groups, one being staff, the second parents and third being the non-parent/non-staff group, which according to Peterson makes up 75 percent of the community.
According to the data, all groups were in favor of supporting the idea of exploring an operational referendum with overall supports averaging 59 percent. She said the margin of error for the survey data is plus or minus three percent, but is confident in the survey results per past experience in other districts in the state.
The survey also gathered additional information testing the level of support for additional funding to boost its technical education class offerings; increase its overall technology budget; update curriculum; and to test the waters when it came to reinstating of multiple districtwide positions eliminated over the past 10 years.
This portion of the survey would have required an additional $380,000 in annual tax levy dollars and received less support overall. The complete results of the survey can be viewed via a link on the Westby Area School District website.
Peterson and Interim District Administrator John Burnett cautioned the school board about heading down this path, a warning the school board heeded when making its decision to request anything more than the funds needed for maintaining status quo.
The board discussed the issue for a short time with most members weighing in and stating their belief that holding a referendum was in the best interest of the kids and would keep the school district moving forward. Members remarked that the survey results showed enough overall support to at least take a chance and let the taxpayer decide its fate.
Representative David Eggen voted nay to both authorizing the school district to exceed revenue limits for three years and to adopting the referendum resolution.
Eggen said he could not justify asking taxpayer for more money when the school district already has a $13 million dollar budget. He said after the meeting that many families are struggling to survive from month-to-month and yet the school district continues to deficit spend.
Taxpayers in the Westby Area School District will be asked to decide the fate of the $1,725,000 referendum on April 3.
For further information contact: Gerry Roethel Board President (608) 634-4534 or John Burnett Interim District Administrator (608) 634-0101.