What were the Two Referenda Questions?
District Safety and Facility Needs Question and Operational Needs Question:
The first question is related to the district’s facilities. While our district’s buildings have been well maintained, the average age of our schools is 64 years. In addition to regular maintenance, big-ticket items like windows, roofs and boilers need to be replaced. This question focuses on school safety and secure pathways/entrances as well as addressing the most urgent facility needs now. District Operational Needs Referendum. If approved by voters, the impact of the facilities referendum would be a $5 increase in school-related taxes for every $100,000 in assessed value, beginning with tax bills in December of 2021.
The second question is related to district operations. Despite efforts by the board and district to cut costs and save money, the district’s revenue limit—a state-imposed limit on the amount of money a district can receive—has decreased faster than the district’s ability to realize cost savings as a result of having smaller enrollments.
The board designed the solution that will be presented to voters in November to address this issue, protect the outstanding education experience provided to our students and protect the needs of property taxpayers. Since the operational referendum was approved by voters, there will be a gradual increase in school-related taxes over 4 years, starting with tax bills issued in December 2021, finishing at total increase of about $114 per $100,000 assessed value in 2024-25.
Question #1: Safety and Facility Needs
The School District of Janesville works hard to make the most of the investments taxpayers make in their local public schools. This includes extending the life of district facilities, stretching the revenue the district receives, and anticipating financial challenges before they affect the district.
In addition to its operational considerations, the district has facility and safety related needs. While all our facilities have been well maintained, the average age of our schools is 64 years. In fact, our newest school, Kennedy Elementary, was constructed more than 20 years ago. The district’s oldest school, Rock River Charter School, is approaching its 140th birthday.
In 2016, the district commissioned a facilities study that focused on its envelope and mechanical systems. The study included a review of the district's mechanical systems, such as boilers, air handlers, electrical systems, windows, and roofs. The report indicated that if all the needed work was done at one time, the estimated cost would be $111.1 million.
It is important to note that the report only addressed fixing existing mechanical, electrical, and plumbing systems, and not making existing space more conducive to modern learning or making schools more safe/secure.
Finally, while the district has an annual maintenance budget, costs for big-ticket items across the district exceed our ability to cover them with the annual budget. To address the costs of most of the items outlined in the facilities report, the district would need permission from the community in the form of a referendum.
The facilities referendum would address issues such as school security, life safety system, and the replacing of outdated mechanical systems like boilers. The impact of the facilities referendum will be a $5 increase in school-related taxes for every $100,000 in assessed value, beginning with tax bills in December of 2021.
Question #2: Operational Needs
Wisconsin school districts are funded by a combination of state aid and local property taxes. Each district has a revenue limit created by the state budget. This limit caps the amount of money a district can receive through state aid and local property taxes.
The School District of Janesville has a lower revenue limit per member than an overwhelming majority of districts in the area. This is partially because a Wisconsin district's revenue limit is tied to its enrollment. Districts with declining year-over-year enrollments, such as Janesville, have revenue limits that typically decline faster than their ability to save money due to serving fewer students. Based on new forecasting conducted by the district with its financial adviser, the district is predicting a significant budget deficit starting next year if efforts are not made to address it. This is despite efforts to trim costs throughout the district.
In Wisconsin, school boards may present an operational referendum to voters in the community that, if passed, allow a district to raise its revenue limit authority. This is an option currently being used by a majority of school districts in the state.
The four-year, non-recurring operational referendum will address urgent issues, including maintaining programs and services. The district’s budget would be balanced, only limited cuts would be made, and school-related taxes would remain below the state average. The impact of both referenda can be seen in the table that follows. (NOTE- table includes the $5 increase for the Safety and Facility Needs question)