Viroqua Area Schools held an informational meeting March 13 about the operational referendum that will be on the April 7 ballot.
The referendum will ask voters to exceed the revenue limits by $550,000 per year for five years, beginning with the 2020-2021 school year and ending with the 2024-2025 school year, for non-recurring purposes.
Mike Brendel, director of business services, and District Administrator Dr. Kehl Arnson gave the presentation at the high school/middle school library.
Arnson said school taxes are going down, even with the referendum. He said the referendum is very different from the failed referendum in November 2018. He said the referendum in 2018 was large and there were a lot of projects that were more expensive and had a higher impact on taxes. The current referendum, he said, shows the anticipated needs of the district in five years.
Brendel said in Wisconsin, current law limits the annual amount of revenue each school district can raise, with 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 (like in the failed $36 million November 2018 referendum); 2. Questions to increase the revenue cap for a certain amount of time (non-recurring) (like the referendums held in the district for the last 15 years; doing it on a five-year basis); 3. Questions to increase the revenue cap on an on-going basis (recurring).
Brendel said a referendum to issue debt is generally used for major construction projects. A district levies the principal and interest on approved debt outside of the revenue limits. Taxes levied can only be used to pay approved debt. Brendel said VAS successfully passed referendums to issue debt in 1994 to build the elementary school and in 2004 to remodel the high school/middle school building.
Brendel said VAS failed referendums to issue debt in 1998, 1999 (twice), 2000 and 2018.
He said a referendum to exceed the revenue limit – nonrecurring — is used to provide additional revenues to main programs and on-going maintenance needs; the annual amount is approved for a defined period of time. VAS passed referendums to exceed the revenue limit in 2004, 2010 and 2015. The current five-year referendum expires at the end of the 2019-2020 school year.
Brendel said the expiring 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 if the operational referendum does pass, the projected mill rate will decrease. He said the board approved the 2019-2020 budget with a total tax levy of $5,326,525 and a mill rate of $8.73. If the referendum is approved, the proposed tax levy in 2020-2021 is projected to be $5,099,239 and a mill rate of $8.36, a decrease of 37 cents.
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 he has been asked what would happen to the mill rate if the referendum would fail. He said the mill rate would go down from $8.73 to $7.63.
Brendel said non-recurring referendums have worked in Viroqua for the past 15 years.
Arnson said the district did a “postmortem survey” following the failed $36 million referendum in November 2018. He said there referendum was big and the school board approved holding the referendum a week before the flooding. “It was not good timing.”
Arnson said a community survey completed during the spring of 2019 showed that 74% of the respondents wanted the district to maintain facilities and it was a priority.
Arnson said a lot of the maintenance included in the upcoming April referendum would have been part of the failed 2018 referendum. “We are going to stick with community advice and go with a smaller referendum.”
Brendel said the referendum addresses instructional, transportation, and building and facility maintenance needs. He said discussions were held with building heads, maintenance and transportation to see what the needs would be for five years.
Instructional includes technology: Computer infrastructure improvements; career and technology education equipment; band uniforms and major instrument purchase.
Transportation includes bus purchasing.
Building and facility maintenance includes 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.
Arnson said the tax rate will decrease next year, even with the $550,000 referendum to exceed the revenue limit included. He said the referendum would continue to address building and infrastructure needs and help keep technology current for students.
Arnson said the district will continue to assess its needs and its discussion with the community for a possible capital projects (issue debt) referendum in the next two to three years. He said the district would take community feedback and focus on smaller and high-impact items.
More information about the referendum can be found at www.viroquaareaschools.com. Questions may be directed to Arnson at 608-637-1181 or email@example.com, or Brendel at 608-637-1184 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Angela Cina can be reached at email@example.com.
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