Wisconsin lawmakers push to limit, eliminate school referendums

School referendums have become a common way for districts to make up for lost state funding over the years.

But now a proposal in Madison could possibly get rid of some of those.

Republican lawmakers in Wisconsin are proposing bills that would limit some school referendums, while eliminating others.

It’s a package of six bills labeled as ‘Referendum Reforms’ and it would drastically change the way referendums are run in a number of ways.

Onalaska’s School District Superintendent Fran Finco has concerns about state lawmakers trying to control how often schools hold referendums.

“I don’t think they’re out to hurt people I just think they’re out to try to do what they believe is right but when you look at it from our perspective, it seems like a far reach into the local control when you try to tell school boards when they should have their referendum.”

The proposal would cut state aid by 20 percent from schools who exceed revenue limits from referendums.

It would also require referendum votes to be held on the dates of Spring and Fall general elections, which Finco says doesn’t actually change much because there’s a 70 day window between the time a resolution is stated, to the time it can go to election.

“So typically if a school district was going to go to a referendum in the Spring, and it didn’t pass, they would go again sometime in the Fall if that was their choice, so they wouldn’t do anything differently and I think that’s why from a lobbying standpoint, from the organizations that were against this, I think they felt this was the least intrusive because that’s what people do anyway.”

Some taxpayers find the state’s attempted control troubling, saying Wisconsin schools are already struggling when it comes to funding.

“I think we are responsible for schools and their funding because these are our children, our future, these are the people that are going to be taking care of us as we age out of the workforce, these could be the kids that are curing cancer.”

Finco says regardless of the state’s control, he’s confident the community will continue to support enhancing public education.

“We have a great community and they’ve been very supportive, so we’re fortunate that way.”

Part of the bill would also stop schools from using recurring referendums to pay for ongoing expenses such as salaries, transportation and maintenance.

As of now, there is no time frame on when the bills would go into effect.