FDL School Board Opposes Referenda Legislation
The Fond du Lac School Board has sent out a letter to state legislators asking them to oppose legislation that would put limits on when a school district can stage a referendum. The bills would restrict ballot dates and could impose a waiting period following a failed referendum. School Board President Julie Nett says legislators need to trust that school districts are responsible and voters are well-informed. Nett says limiting referendums to being held in the fall or making districts wait one or two years after they staged a failed referendum to hold another could seriously cripple school districts in their ability to operate. The Fond du Lac School Board sent copies of the letter to State Senators Rick Gudex, Duey Stroebel, and State Representatives Jeremy Thiesfeldt and Michael Schraa.
January 15, 2016
State Senator Duey Stroebel (R-Saukville) and State Representative Michael Schraa (R-Oshkosh) have introduced Senate Bill 355/Assembly Bill 481. This bill aims to restrict school district referendum ballot dates and possibly impose a waiting period following failed referenda during which districts cannot introduce any more referenda and/or use other fiscal tools such as borrowing and bonding to support the district. Currently, there is no limitation on whether or how frequently a referendum may be placed before voters, nor is there a limit on when a school referendum can be held. Under this bill, a school district referendum would have to coincide with a regularly scheduled Spring or Fall general election.
We, the Fond du Lac School District Board of Education, oppose this legislation for the following reasons:
- This bill removes local control of a critical issue.
- This bill does not show trust in locally elected officials.
- Revenue limits and funding cuts and freezes coming from the state level have already left many districts financially strapped. Referenda are a means for local officials to ask their taxpayers for resources necessary to continue operations. It is much easier, and less expensive, to maintain good schools in a community than to rebuild them. This should be a local decision.
- This bill does not allow for the flexibility school districts need to take into account timing needed for construction concerns or budgeting issues. Limits on re-issuing referenda can mean schools must wait even longer than the one or two years being considered in this bill, given the timing and calendar spacing of general elections.
- Many school boards use the results of prior referenda to recalculate and respond to taxpayer concerns in a democratic dialogue about everyone’s vision for local schools. This bill seeks to limit that interaction. We want a conversation with our community, not limits from Madison. Our goal is to serve a well-informed public, not to “wear down the public or manipulate the process,” as this bill suggests. This is a counterproductive solution in search of a problem.
- This bill might impose not only limits on referenda but also on other fiscal “tools” suggested to help schools manage finances. Combined with the lack of funding for public education from the state level, this gives the impression that the goal is to limit access of school districts to the funds necessary for operation, not that the goal is to protect taxpayers.
- Voting is not a difficult process and our local voters are well-informed on school district issues. They have the ability to decide for themselves if a referendum is in the best interest of the community; voters do not need state legislators to limit their opportunities to express themselves at the ballot box.
We urge you to oppose this bill and would like to know your current position. We would like to work with you on this and other education issues and look forward to hearing from you. Thank you for your time and service to the state.
Fond du Lac School District Board of Education
Julie M. Nett, President
Mark Jurgella, Vice President
Elizabeth Hayes, Secretary/Clerk
Dr. Susan Jones, Treasurer