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Wisconsin School Officials Oppose Proposed Referendum Restrictions

Lawmakers Considering Bill Limiting When, How Often Votes Can Be Held

Line of school buses
Larry Darling (CC-BY-NC)

School board members and administrators across Wisconsin asked state lawmakers on Thursday to drop a plan that would make it harder to ask voters to raise property taxes.

The plan would force school districts to wait until spring or fall general election to put a referendum on the ballot.

State Rep. Michael Schraa, R-Oshkosh, is the legislation’s sponsor and said restricting referenda to the major election cycles each year will maximize voter turnout.

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“We want as many people involved in the process to make the decisions on whether or not everybody’s property taxes are going to go up,” he said.

Alma Superintendent Steven Sedlmayer told lawmakers that state funding for schools is no longer certain. He said referenda let voters decide whether to spend more at the local level or not.

“Let’s not stop that ability for the people to speak,” said Sedlmayer. “I understand that you guys want to hold down property taxes, but you can’t hold down property taxes, you can’t hold down income taxes and you can’t hold down sales taxes and expect things to happen.”

If a referendum fails, Schraa’s plan would force schools to wait a year before they try again.

Bruce Quinton, the district administrator for the Pepin Area School District, which passed a referendum to exceed revenue limits, said that had the measure been law earlier, many things would be different.

“If the current bill was law and that referendum failed, Pepin Area Schools, I believe, would no longer exist,” he said.

Quinton said school referenda should remain a local decision since for some districts it’s the only way for them to increase funding.