A community presentation about a proposed Viroqua Area Schools operational referendum to exceed the revenue limits was given on Tuesday, Dec. 3.
Mike Brendel, director of business services, and District Administrator Dr. Kehl Arnson gave the presentation.
Arnson said the district has been working with school board committees for several months to look at expected needs for the next five years. He said the board listened to the community after the November 2018 referendum failed, breaking things down into smaller pieces. He said operational referendum presentations were given to the school board in October and November, and at the regular meeting on Dec. 16, the board will continue to look at the operational referendum and may act on it then.
Brendel said the current five-year referendum expires at the end of the 2019-2020 school year. Brendel emphasized the school board has not made an official motion to hold an operational referendum.
Board president Angie Lawrence said the items in the proposed operational referendum would have been covered by the referendum that failed in November 2018.
Brendel said in Wisconsin, the current law limits the annual amount of revenue each school district can raise, this is called the revenue limit or revenue cap. If a school wants to spend more money than what is allowed under their revenue cap they must go to the local property tax owners and ask for permission to increase local taxes.
Brendel said there are three types of referendum questions: 1. Questions to issue debt; 2. Questions to increase the revenue cap for a certain amount of time (non-recurring); 3. Questions to increase the revenue cap on an on-going basis (recurring).
Brendel explained a referendum to issue debt is generally used for major construction projects. A district levies the principal and interest on approved debt outside of revenue limits. Taxes levied can only be used to pay approved debt.
A referendum to exceed the revenue limit – non-recurring – Brendel said, is used to provide additional revenues to maintain programs and on-going maintenance needs. The annual amount is approved for a defined period of time. He said the current five-year referendum expires at the end of the 2019-2020 school year.
Brendel said the current referendum to exceed the revenue limits — $350,000 per year – covered instructional, transportation, and building and facility maintenance needs.
Instructional needs included technology: Computer labs, Chromebook carts, classroom tablets, and wiring; elementary and middle school English language arts curriculum materials.
Transportation included five new school buses and a large van.
Building and facility maintenance included roof replacements at the middle and high school and Bigley Pool; middle school lockers; bus garage parking lot improvements; asphalt and concrete repairs and replacement throughout the district; boiler, electrical switchgear, clocks, and phone system replacements; and middle and high school safety and accessibility improvements.
Brendel said the future referendum to exceed the revenue limits — $550,000 per year for the next five years – would address instructional, transportation, and building and facility maintenance needs. He said department heads were asked what the school district should be looking at for the next five years and what needs are on the horizon.
Instructional would include technology: Computer infrastructure improvements; career and technology education equipment; band uniforms and major instrument purchase.
Transportation would include bus purchasing. Brendel said the district has improved the age of its buses immensely in the last 10 years. He added the buses are well maintained but the salt on roads takes a toll. He also said the district is looking at a more consistent rotation of buses.
Building and facility maintenance would include elementary school: HVAC, plumbing, flooring and painting; middle and high school: Elevator replacements, building envelope repairs, heating controls upgrades; Better Futures: Roof, HVAC, carpet and concrete replacement; Bigley Pool: Boiler, circulating pumps, heat exchanger, and A/C compressor replacement; asphalt and concrete repairs and replacement throughout the district; maintenance equipment replacement; safety and accessibility improvements.
Brendel said the board approved the 2019-2020 budget with a total tax levy of $5,326,525 and a mill rate of $8.7299. If approved, the proposed tax levy is projected to be $5,525,102, an increase of $198,577. The projected mill rate using current equalized value of the district would be $9.0553. Financial impact of the proposed operational referendum for 2019-2020 would be a total tax levy of $5,326,525, with a mill rate of $8.7299. The financial impact for 2020-2021 would be a total tax levy of $5,525,102, with a mill rate of $9.0553.
Brendel said tax levy amounts are estimated based on projected equalization aid; mill rates are calculated using the 2019-2020 equalized valuation with 0% increase for future years.
Brendel said all projections are completed using state laws as approved in the biennial budget in 2018. He said student membership is expected to remain constant, with modest increases projected in 2021 and 2022; any deviation from projections will impact the revenue limit calculation.
The assessment of the local municipalities do not increase nor decrease the amount of total taxes the school district levies, Brendel said. The district’s levies are limited by the state of Wisconsin revenue limit, which sets a per pupil cap on the amount of money the district can collect from both the state of Wisconsin and the local taxpayers.
Brendel said as of Jan. 1, 2018, a school district can only hold two referendum questions in one calendar year, and the referendum must be held on regularly scheduled spring and fall election days. The next general election date is April 7, 2020. He said that means the school board must adopt and file a resolution by Jan. 28, 2020. He said this request is for extra money to take care of what the district has.
The next regular school board meeting is Monday, Dec. 16, at 5 p.m. Brendel said if the referendum is approved by the board, the district would schedule presentations about the operational referendum.
“These are things we need,” Lawrence said. “They aren’t dreams of extravagance.”
Arnson said community feedback following the failed November 2018 referendum indicated that the referendum was too big and projects needed to be spread out. He said an operational referendum made sense as the next step.
Information about the proposed operation al referendum to exceed the revenue limits can be found on the school district’s website.