Dane County school districts look to communities for funding help through referendums

Half of the Dane County School districts are asking for funding from their respective communities through referendum votes in November.
Published: Sep. 28, 2022 at 6:55 PM CDT
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MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) - Half of Dane County school districts are asking for funding from their respective communities through referendum votes in November.

The Sun Prairie School District is asking for $9 million spread out of three years to keep up with operational costs like staff wages, utilities and transportation. The district’s business and finance director Phil Frei said inflation and little-to-no funding from the Wisconsin legislature forced their hand.

”It’s just really that lack of state funding especially the last two years that it has not been tied to inflation,” Frei said. “And the last two years that it’s been zero.”

Frei said if the referendum does not pass on November 8, the district will need to cut costs by potentially laying off 90 people, cutting 7% of the athletics budget and 7% of the building’s cost.

”It’s always tough because we have to ask voters to approve,” Frei said. “And they don’t get the chance to say no at the gas pump or the chance to say no to groceries, but they do get to say no school districts spending more.”

Oregon School District Superintendent Dr. Leslie Bergstrom said she has never seen so many referendums all at once, but that it is not surprising.

”Yes, I do think there are more school districts than usual that are looking to their community to assist,” Dr. Bergstrom said. “Because what’s coming from the state right now is not going to help us move forward in this highly competitive market.”

Dr. Bergstrom’s district is asking for $11.4 million for educator salary increase to meet the standard of living, building utilities and transportation costs.

”We have such talented people in our schools and we want to keep them in our schools,” she said. “We don’t want them to leave us because they can go somewhere else and make more money.”

Oregon voter Tim Higgins has not decided how he will vote yet, but said he plans to do more research before voting yes or no.

”I’ve only just kind of skimmed the headlines. In general I favor funding for schools,” Higgins said. ”I want to live in a community where the kids get a good education. Even though my kids have now graduated from school I still care about this community.”

If passed, these operational referendums would provide funding that would continue into the future, unlike the one-time use federal dollars schools received for COVID-19 pandemic relief. Frei and Dr. Bergstrom said these funds were great, but they still need more money to compete with inflation and run their respective schools.

According to the Wisconsin Department of Instruction, eight out 16 Dane County districts requested referendums to help pay ongoing and increasing operational costs. The school districts on the list include the following: Belleville, Middleton-Cross Plains, Mount Horeb, Oregon, Stoughton, Sun Prairie, Verona, and Waunakee.