MMSD referendum would raise property taxes over four years

If passed, the Madison Metropolitan School District School Board could collect up to $33 million in additional taxes by 2024.
Published: Oct. 24, 2020 at 9:58 PM CDT
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MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) - Voters in Madison this November will weigh in on two referendums put forward by the Madison Metropolitan School District. The first is asking voters for the ability to raise property taxes over the next four years to invest in various programs.

Kelly Ruppel, MMSD’s Chief Financial Officer, said state funding has failed to keep up with students' needs, forcing cuts at the district level.

“We’ve had to make $20 million of budget cuts in the last six to seven years,” Ruppel explained.

If passed, a referendum on the ballot in 2020 would allow the Madison School Board to collect an additional $33 million dollars in property taxes over the next four years.

“We need more resources than the state and the state politics are going to give us," Ruppel said.

Ruppel added the referendum gives the board the authority to raise taxes to collect that additional revenue, but it does not mean the board will.

“In the past, the board has under-levied, meaning not used all of their authority, and that certainly would be on the board table in the upcoming years if the referendum should pass,” Ruppel said.

With additional revenue, Ruppel said the district could invest more in early literacy programs, including a full-day 4K.

Money could also go to equity programs like the Early College STEM Academy, a program which allows students to earn college credits through Madison College before graduating high school.

“They’re simultaneously earning their graduation requirements and earning college credits with the ability to graduate high school with both a high school diploma and an associates of science,” said Cindy Green, MMSD Executive Director of Secondary Pathways and Programs.

The program is in its third year, with nearly 200 students participating. Green said the first class of students graduated in June 2020, with seven out of 24 students earning the associates of science degree.

Green explained the focus of the STEM Academy is on students traditionally underrepresented in STEM, like students of color and young women.

“We really want to make this a game changer for students that are either the first college-going student in their family or students from low-income backgrounds,” Green added.

In late 2019, during public comment sessions for the proposed referendums, NBC15 heard concerns from city officials and other stakeholders that the higher taxes would be too much for some to afford. Now, the referendum comes at a time when the COVID-19 pandemic has already placed financial strain on many families.

“We definitely understand the impact that COVID-19 has had on the overall economy here in Madison,” Ruppel said.

Ruppel acknowledged the hardships caused by the pandemic. She added the district’s budget has been strained as well by the switch to virtual learning.

“In addition to the $8 million that we had to cut, we had to repurpose over $2 million of our local resources,” Ruppel explained.

However, Ruppel said she thinks it is more important than ever to invest in Madison schools, saying that is necessary to “come out of this pandemic stronger than we entered into it.”

“If we don’t pass the referendum, what we’re looking at is $30 million of budget cuts over the next three to four years," Ruppel added.

According to a report from MMSD, the average homeowner’s taxes would go up about $60 in the first year if this referendum passes.

MMSD also has another referendum on the ballot, which asks for $317 million to go towards renovations and maintenance in the district’s four major high schools and to building a new elementary school in the Rimrock area.

If both measures pass, the average homeowner’s taxes would go up about $184 in the first year.

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