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Limiting Referendums Would Hurt Cash-Strapped School Districts, Opponents Say

Lawmakers Hold Hearing On Bill Restricting Revenue Votes To Once A Year

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Education officials and advocates spoke out Thursday against legislation that would limit when school districts can hold votes asking the public for money.

School boards across the state use local referendums to raise tax revenue for construction projects. A Republican-backed bill making the rounds at the state Capitol would limit districts to holding referendums during November and April general elections. If a referendum fails, school boards would have to wait one year before trying again.

During a public hearing Thursday, Bob Soldner with the state Department of Public Instruction said the new limits could drastically cut down funding for many school districts.

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“A narrowly defeated referendum often will pass on the subsequent attempt after incorporating the feedback from the voters,” he said.

The Wisconsin Association of School Boards’ Dan Rossmiller also expressed opposition to the bill, saying referendums are essential for building many schools.

“There’s a reason, because they’re expensive, because they’re permanent investments in the community. Those are buildings that are open to everyone in the community,” Rossmiller said.

But one of the bill’s sponsors, Republican Rep. Michael Schraa, told colleagues that limiting referendums to general elections would allow for greater voter turnout.

“By holding special elections on random days not associated with regular elections, only a small number of voters are deciding whether or not everyone’s property taxes will go up,” he said.

Since the early 1990s, 80 percent of the referendums held in Wisconsin have been in rural areas.