Tomah School District asks taxpayers for referendum

Four area schools districts are set to ask residents for more money this spring through referendums, and Tomah is one of them.

The Tomah School District has already cut hundreds of thousands of dollars in people and programs over the last several years, according to its administrators. That’s a result of a decreasing enrollment and declining state funding.

“There is nowhere else to cut,” said Superintendent Cindy Zahrte. “We have made significant cuts basically since 2010 and prior to that, and we’re at a point where making further reductions is going to have an adverse affect on the programs we offer our students.”

Now, the district is turning to their taxpayers for help in the form of a referendum to increase their funding incrementally over the next three years, equaling out to $2.28 million. That’s $300,000 for the 2014-15 school year; $750,000 for the 2015-16 school year; and $1.5 million for the 2016-17 school year.

For Tomah residents, that’s a total tax increase of about $51 per $100,000 home, spread over that time period.

Without the referendum, future cuts could include middle and high school extracurricular activities, and also one of Tomah’s two elementary librarians. The district libraries have already seen heavy cuts – currently, those two librarians split time at Tomah’s seven elementary schools. Another librarian splits time between the middle and high school.

“The library is the heart of the school. Reading is the basis for everything that we do,” Librarian Cindy Downing said. “I think it’s scary to think that reading would be one of the areas that would be cut, since reading is so important.”

Regardless of the referendum outcome, some cuts are imminent – administrators have already shaved more than $300,000 from the 2014-15 budget. Without an approved referendum, they’ll cut $1.5 million over the next three years.

If the referendum ultimately fails,Tomah’s School Board will make the final decision on where cuts will have to be made.Voters will decide April 1. The school district’s request for more money will be the only question on the ballot.