Over the course of the last two months, my focus, along with members of the board of education, and the district’s business manager, Greg Gaarder, has been to attend meetings and events throughout the district to answer questions on the school district referendum.

As I’ve traveled throughout the district to town and village board meetings, I am reminded how expansive the Tomah Area School District is (456 square miles), and I have certainly gained an appreciation for our school bus drivers as I traveled on snow-covered and winding roads. I appreciate that our local town and village board leaders, who understand the language of revenue limits and equalized values, provide me with time at their meetings to share information on the great things happening in the Tomah Area School District and the importance of renewing the referendum to continue these efforts. We certainly want all voters to feel they are making an informed decision at the polls on April 2.

Let me break down the numbers for readers one last time:

  • In 2016, when the current referendum was passed, our mill rate of $851 per $100,000 of equalized property value was 38th lowest in the state. Today, the Tomah Area School District’s mill rate is the 29th lowest in the state of Wisconsin (out of 368 K-12 districts). The school tax rate has dropped to $745 per $100,000 of equalized property value, which is in the lowest eight percent of tax rates in the state, and our school district is debt-free. This demonstrates the fiscal responsibility exhibited by our board of education to taxpayers. However, the board of education also recognizes its responsibility to provide quality educational opportunities for our students. The board is advocating for the ability to exceed revenue limits for four more years in order to maintain these quality educational opportunities which currently are provided to the children of our communities.
  • The referendum question asks voters to renew the referendum approved in 2016 allowing the Tomah Area School District to exceed revenue limits by $1.5 million for each of the next four years (2019-20, 2020-21, 2021-22, and 2022-23). This does amount to a total of $6 million over four years, but this additional revenue is not added to the school district’s budget. If the referendum passes, the district’s budget will remain at approximately $33 million, but we would continue to have the ability to spend up to an additional $1.5 million each year.
  • The question has been raised as to whether the school district really needs to pursue a referendum given that our newly-elected governor is proposing increases to school funding. While we are hopeful that additional revenue from the state will make its way to our schools, the budget process involves lengthy debate and negotiations − as it should − and there are a variety of competing priorities which exist in our state. Our board of education sets a budget each year voted on by school district residents at the annual meeting held in August. If in any of the upcoming four years the additional $1.5 million, or a portion of it, is not needed due to increases in state aid to our school district, the additional dollars from the referendum will not need to be utilized. The taxpayers should be confident of this given the history of fiscal responsibility by our board of education.
  • We believe the impact of passing a $1.5 million referendum is a reasonable investment in our schools by our taxpayers. The first year of the referendum, the estimated increase in taxes would be approximately $2 on each $100,000 of property valuation (approximately 17 cents per month). The estimated increase in taxes the second year on each $100,000 of property valuation is $12 (approximately $1 per month). In the third year of the referendum, there is an estimated decrease of $8 on each $100,000 of property valuation (minus 66 cents per month), and in the fourth year, our estimates indicate no change in the tax levy. When added together over the course of four years, it is anticipated that the cost of this referendum would be $6 for each $100,000 of property valuation, which averages out to $1.50 per year or 13 cents each month for 48 months.

We have one final educational session on the referendum on Thursday, March 21 at Tomah High School at 7 p.m. Please attend if you have questions or concerns which have not been answered. Thank you for being an educated voter on the issue of the Tomah Area School District referendum on April 2!

If you have any questions or comments about the information and opinions expressed in this edition of The School Bell, please contact Cindy Zahrte, district administrator, at cindyzahrte@tomah.education or 608-374-7002.

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Cindy Zahrte is the superintendent of the Tomah Area School District.

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Tomah Journal editor

Steve Rundio is editor of the Tomah Journal. Contact him at 608-374-7785.

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