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School money
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MONROE - Area school districts are struggling with prospects of inadequate state funding and operating budgets larger than revenues. Many are turning to voters to grant them referendums for additional funds.

Here's a rundown on area school districts' plans for upcoming referendums:


The Albany school board decided recently to hold an April operating referendum asking voters for permission to exceed revenue limits in order to maintain facilities and programs at their current levels, according to a news release. The new referendum would replace Albany's current referendum, which will expire in June.

The question that will be on the ballot and the amount the district will ask for have yet to be determined. Final decisions are expected to be made at the school board's January meeting. The board also plans to hold a series of "town hall" meetings on the referendum.

State budget cuts since 2008 have decreased district revenues by more than $250,000, according to the release. Last year, the district cut staff positions worth about $500,000 to make up for "unforeseen shortfalls" that Christopher Lange, the district's public relations director, said were caused by state funding cuts over the last five to six years.

Albany's last referendum was passed in November 2012 for a total of $1.64 million over three years and addressed an operating deficit.


Superintendent Phil Updike said in an email it's "not clear" yet if the district will choose to pursue a referendum. He said the district is awaiting results of a survey sent out to stakeholders.

Black Hawk

Black Hawk will not be putting a referendum on the ballot this year, but it could come up next year, according to Superintendent Willy Chambers.

"My belief is it will be a serious conversation next year," Chambers said in an email. "Referendums are necessary and will be necessary for most, if not all, districts to provide the educational opportunities that are essential to our students."

Chambers also denied the rumor that Black Hawk is considering closure or consolidation with another district.

"Dissolution or consolidation are very serious and permanent solutions. I do not foresee this as the solution within the next couple of years," he said. "I believe the only way the board will consider either is if the community does not support a referendum in the future."

The last time Black Hawk attempted to pass a referendum was in November 2014. The $250,000 recurring referendum for operational expenses failed with two-thirds of voters against the measure.


Brodhead is planning to hold a referendum in April for operating costs, but the details have yet to be determined, Superintendent Leonard Lueck said in an email.

The school board held a public referendum meeting in November. According to materials from the meeting, the district's current $800,000-per-year referendum - to maintain programs and facilities - is in its third and last year, leaving the district with likely shortfalls next year.

This year's budget plans for a surplus of almost $250,000, but Baird, a financial services firm, estimates a deficit of almost $950,000 in the 2016-17 school year. The deficit is projected to grow to about $1.6 million in 2017-18 and about $2.1 million the following year.

With decreasing student membership in recent years projected to continue, state funding and the district's revenue limit are expected to drop.

Additional funds from a referendum would be used to maintain current programs, possibly upgrade facilities and pay off debt, according to the materials. The district has implemented cost-saving measures over more than a decade, including staffing eliminations, service reductions and benefits changes.

Lueck said the board is looking at a three- to five-year referendum but hasn't determined how much money it would request.


Darlington's school board decided at a November meeting to hold a $2.2 million operational referendum this spring, as well as a debt referendum in fall of 2016, Superintendent Denise Wellnitz said in an email.

She said the board plans to hold community meetings and surveys after the April referendum to determine the details of the debt referendum. A debt referendum allows a district to obtain a larger amount of money up front than a referendum to exceed revenue limits and is often used for larger projects, such as renovations and additions.

Voters passed a five-year referendum in April 2011 that supplied the district with $700,000 per year above its revenue limit.


Recommendations for two Juda referendum questions passed at a Dec. 9 school board meeting, according to the unapproved minutes. The school board is expected to vote on the official resolutions for the referendums on Jan. 13, set for the April election.

The first question asks for a recurring $150,000 operational referendum, and the second asks for a 20-year $6.33 million building referendum.

Superintendent Traci Davis said in an email the operational referendum would raise the tax rate by $1.44 per $1,000 of property value for the first year and $1.08 per $1,000 for each year after that. The owner of a $100,000 house would pay $144 as a result of the operational referendum in the first year.

The building referendum would add $0.36 to the tax rate starting the second year, or $36 for a $100,000 house.

Davis said the building projects include remodeling underutilized spaces, dealing with asbestos and making other facility upgrades.

She noted Juda's current debt will end in the 2017-18 school year.

The district last went to referendum in 2000 with $4.2 million for a new gym and computer lab.


Monroe's school board opted for a fall 2016 referendum at a meeting Dec. 14. Amounts and questions for the ballot have yet to be determined, but Business Manager Ron Olson estimates a baseline of at least $1.6 to $1.8 million over three years.

The last time the district put a referendum on the ballot was in April 2011. The four-year $8 million referendum failed, resulting in a three-year reduction plan that included staffing cuts.

Monroe successfully passed a four-year referendum in 2007 but didn't use the full referendum authority the following year, levying $600,000 less than the district was allowed.


Currently in the second year of an eight-year referendum, the Monticello school district won't be putting anything on the ballot in 2016, District Administrator Allen Brokopp said in an email.

"Our community has shown amazing support of our school," Brokopp said.

Voters passed the eight-year operational referendum in April 2014, allowing the district to exceed revenue limits by about $680,000 this school year and next and by $820,000 each year after that, ending in the 2021-2022 school year.

The referendum is being used for operational expenses, including building repairs, transportation and technology upgrades.

New Glarus

The New Glarus school board passed a resolution in November for a February referendum.

The school district will be asking voters at the 2016 spring primary election for permission to borrow up to $5.8 million for roof replacements, HVAC upgrades and remodeling and renovation projects, among other items.

Taxes wouldn't be affected by the referendum, according to District Administrator Jennifer Thayer. She said in an email the new debt would replace previous debt, keeping taxes steady with previous years but extending the district's debt payment schedule.

"We have many needs over the coming years, but we prioritized the lists and narrowed the focus of the referendum to the most immediate needs that can be accomplished without increasing taxes," she said.

New Glarus voters last passed a school referendum in November 2011, authorizing the district to borrow $7.35 million to expand and upgrade school facilities.

The success came after two referendum questions failed in April of the same year.


There are no 2016 referendums on the horizon for Pecatonica schools, but the district is considering a referendum for the spring of 2017, District Administrator Jill Underly said in an email. But if enrollment continues to rise - as it has for the last two years - there won't be a referendum in 2017 either.

Underly said the decision wouldn't be made until fall of 2016 and that a potential referendum would be for operational costs, in order to keep the district's current programs.

Pecatonica passed a recurring referendum in 2008, which allows the district to exceed its revenue limit by $350,000 every year to maintain staffing levels, maintain curriculum and address maintenance and technology needs.