Dane Co. superintendents hope people will support looming referenda

As families navigate through school, some local districts are asking taxpayers to weigh in.
Published: Aug. 23, 2022 at 11:04 AM CDT
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MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) - Nearly twenty Dane Co. superintendents teamed up to urge their communities to back school funding referenda that could start popping up on their ballots in the coming months.

An open letter penned by Mt. Horeb Area School District head Steve Salerno pointed out that rising inflation coupled with a second straight year in which state leaders opted not to raise per student funding means districts need to stretch their dollars farther.

“We remain committed to making the most of every single taxpayer dollar invested in our schools, whether that investment is made at the state or local level,” the letter stated.

He told NBC15, “For us, just to get to an inflationary cost of living adjustment for them [staff] has been like moving mountains for us, and it shouldn’t be that way.”

Salerno also pointed out that pandemic relief funds cannot be used for some of the districts’ basic needs. A restriction on using the money on recurring expenses means the extra federal dollars cannot be spent on permanent staff, or similar expenditures. Salerno noted nationwide statistics that found over the past twenty years, Wisconsin slipped from just outside the top ten in public school funding (11th place) to the middle of the pack (25th place). He added that the state now sits six percent below the state average.

The superintendents’ letter argued that Wisconsin has shifted how it funds schools more and more from using state revenues to relying on local property taxes. According to Salerno, more than four in five Wisconsin school districts (83%) have already passed referenda at some point in the past decade to help balance district budgets. The superintendents predict even more ballot questions will be coming soon.

Here’s a list of all the superintendents who signed the letter. Asterisks indicate which districts will have a referendum question in November, according to Salerno.

Nate PerrySchool District of Belleville*
Marggie Banker, Ed.DSchool District of Cambridge
Michelle JensenDeerfield Community School District*
Dr. Rebecca ToetzDeForest Area School District
Vince BreunigSchool District of Lodi
Daniel Grady, Ed.D.Marshall Public Schools
Aaron TarnutzerMcFarland School District
Dr. Dana MonogueMiddleton Cross Plains Area School District*
Dr. Daniel OlsonMonona Grove School District
Dr. Steve SalernoMount Horeb Area School District*
Dr. Dan KeyserStoughton Area School District
Dr. Jennifer ThayerNew Glarus School District (Green Co.)
Leslie Bergstrom, Ed.D.Oregon School District*
Dr. Brad SaronSun Prairie Area School District*
Dr. Tremayne ClardyVerona Area School District*
Brian HenningWaterloo School District*
Randy GuttenbergWaunakee Community School District*
Dr. Jordan SinzWisconsin Heights School District

Vince Breunig, district administrator in Lodi, is not planning to go to referendum this fall. Instead, he took the step last spring. “It allowed us to keep our staff [and] our class numbers down to acceptable levels for our families,” he said.

He admitted, referenda can put pressure on taxpayers, with additional consequences.

“It creates winners and losers across the state when you have communities that are willing to support a referendum and communities that aren’t,” Breunig said.

But with money a challenge, Breunig is calling on voters to consider an “investment” in schools.