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Our View: The future is now for school districts
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The future is now for local public school districts when it comes to finding a way to meet their financial obligations. It has been, and looks like it will continue to be, a continuing cycle of referendum votes just to meet yearly expenses.

In the past, when the economy was good, referendums were only needed to pay for major one-time expenses such as a new gymnasium or school roof.

The change is due in large part to the state-mandated limit on the amount of property tax revenue a district can garner from property owners and the way the amount of money a district receives from the state of Wisconsin through its shared revenue program or "state aid" is determined. State aid is based on the number of students in each district, which obviously favors larger school systems, such as Milwaukee or Madison, or districts with growing populations.

The current state of affairs will not change anytime soon until the formula the state uses to distribute school aid is changed, the property tax revenue caps are removed or a different funding source is used all together, such as a sales tax.

In the meantime, school districts locally, like Black Hawk, and their residents have to find ways to cope. The district is facing an $800,000 budget shortfall after a recurring referendum failed April 6. So far, district officials have suggested using most of its $1.1 million budget reserve to pay for its operating expenses and deficit. On Monday night, the district held a community meeting to seek the public's input on where to go from here. Nothing concrete was decided, but these types of meetings will be essential if small school districts are to survive.

In essence, asking the taxpayers how they want their money spent - a referendum - in their school district is a worthy concept, but it requires strong planning by the district and each referendum must be marketed perfectly for the public to buy it. This formula could become very difficult as referendums become more frequent.

Unfortunately, good planning and marketing are not always done as noted by the failures of the Black Hawk and Brodhead districts in April - Brodhead also had a failed referendum in February.

Until things change at the state level, all of our area school districts should prepare for the possibility of yearly referendums to meet general finical obligations.

Districts will find ways to cut staff or programs or institutes pay freezes or furloughs, but with loses in state aid and a cap on the amount of money the schools can collect, all the conceivable cost cutting measures in the world might not save some districts from consolidation of closure.