The Tomah School Board appears ready to ask voters to extend its authority to exceed revenue caps by $1.5 million per year.
Several board members spoke in favor of the $1.5 million figure during a special board meeting Dec. 3 at Robert Kupper Learning Center. The board had considered asking for just $1 million or $1.25 million, but the pendulum swung back in favor of $1.5 million after administrators presented a list of construction and security projects that could be accommodated with the $1.5 million figure.
“It’s an easy decision for me,” said board member John McMullen. “I don’t see why we would want to go backward at this point. It doesn’t change the levy very much.”
The board and administration also appear to favor a four-year referendum rather than three years.
“We spend money to go to a referendum,” superintendent Cindy Zahrte said. “It would be nice to push that out a little bit.”
Tomah Area School District voters in April 2016 passed a referendum that allowed the school district to exceed the revenue limit by $1.5 million per year for three years. That authority expires with the 2019-20 school year.
School district business manager Greg Gaarder said the school district could probably get by with a $1.25 million referendum but added that the school district faces potential new expenses with increased enrollment.
“Keep in mind we’ve picked up 150 students, and we really haven’t done anything with that,” Gaarder said. “If we get another bigger year, we may need more classrooms to accommodate the new students coming in.”
Gaarder also questioned how much additional money would be coming from the state over the next two years. The next session of the legislature begins with divided government, and the state payments for the new Foxconn plant in Racine County begin next year.
“All eyes are on Foxconn and what that will do to the budget,” Gaarder said.
The difference between a $1.25 and $1.5 million referendum would be $14 on a $100,000 property in 2019-20 and $6 per year after that. The mill rate would still be a more than $1 lower than it was in 2015-16.
“Look at $1.25 million and $1.5 million, and there isn’t much difference in the (tax),” board member Gary Grovesteen said. “Do you think $1.25 million or $1.5 million would make a difference in the voting?”
Zahrte believes there is public support for maintaining the $1.5 million level based on survey results from a consultant hired by the district.
“It’s important for us to look at the survey results and see what the community says,” Zahrte said. Prior to the meeting, Zahrte addressed a group in the town of Bear Bluff and said “there was very little push back” against a $1.5 million referendum.
The board is likely to take a final vote on submitting the referendum during its regular monthly meeting Dec. 17. If approved, the referendum would go before voters in the April 2, 2019, spring election.
Tomah Journal editor Steve Rundio can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.