In November 2020, residents of the School District of Janesville (SDJ) voted to pass two referendum questions critically important to the future of our local public schools. The Board of Education and the SDJ Administration utilized your input regarding how you want your community's schools to function and operate now and into the future.
The members of the School District of Janesville Board of Education released the following statement after the announcement of the November 3, 2020 election results showing that voters approved both referendum questions to address safety/security/building needs and operational needs of the school district:
On behalf of the School District of Janesville Board of Education, we thank our residents for their consideration of the solution presented to voters through the two referendum questions on November 3.
We are pleased that the board could find a solution that meets the needs of the district. We also appreciated having an open dialogue with individual community members and hearing a variety of views on how to address the opportunities and challenges we face together.
The board will continue its commitment to the educational priorities of the district and to making the most of every single dollar invested by residents into their public schools.
With that, we thank you again for your consideration of the solutions presented that will positively impact our students, schools, and the greater community. We look forward to continued conversations regarding the future of the School District of Janesville.
Members of the School District of Janesville Board of Education
What were the Two Referenda Questions?District Safety and Facility Needs Question and Operational Needs Question:
Question 1 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.
Question 2 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.
School Safety and Boiler Question
SDJ invites community members to view this referendum informational presentation by Superintendent Steve Pophal.
Property Tax Impact with Proposed Facilities and Operational Referendum
|Total referendum tax increase (per $100,000 assessed value) over 4 years (compared to 2020):||$119.00|
The board designed the solution that was presented to voters in November to address facility needs, 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 with a total increase total of $119 per $100,000 of assessed value at the end of the 2024-25 school year. In other words, there would be an increase of $39 over the base in year one, $70 over the base in year two, $91 over the base in year three, and $119 over the base in year four.
Engaging the Community, Gathering Input
The SDJ and the Board of Education worked hard to engage the entire district community in advance of placing the referendum questions on the ballot. This included working with a Community Financial Advisory Committee, a group composed of local business, industry, service and nonprofit leaders who have a financial acumen. The district and board also conducted a community-wide survey and used the results to inform their decision making. The highest-ranked items from the community survey are central to the solutions the Board of Education will present to voters in November. The top three ranked items included:
- Safety and security;
- Attracting and retaining highly qualified staff; and
- Maintaining small class size.
Think of a CFAC as a kitchen cabinet of advisors who will examine the district’s financial records, ask tough questions, and make a recommendation about a referendum. The CFAC is made up of Janesville community members with knowledge of fiscal matters.
- How many square feet and acres does the district maintain?
- If the district has a declining enrollment, why doesn't it close a school to save some money?
- How has the district tried to manage this challenge without a referendum?
- Have SDJ residents passed a referendum in the past?
- What will happen if the district’s operational needs are not addressed?
- How much money does the district annually spend on capital maintenance?
- What will happen if the district’s facility needs are not addressed?
- What language will appear on the November 3 ballot?
- When would I see the tax impact if the referendum passes?
- How much annually will the operational referendum cost and what is the total over four years?
- What is the State of Wisconsin imposed revenue limit?
- What does the district’s total revenue look like?
- What is the history of the district’s mil rate?
- How does the district’s mil rate compare to the mil rates of other districts in Rock County?
- How does the district’s mil rate compare to the mil rate of like-sized districts in Wisconsin?
- What are the projected mil rates if both referenda questions were approved?
- If the community rejects the referendum, would the district try again? And if so, what are the steps and when would that happen?
- What if the referendum never passes?
- If the community does not support the referendum, where can the district acquire the resources to cover the coming budget deficit?
- What is the school board’s role in a referendum?
- What has the district done to curtail costs over the years?
- As it relates to an operational referendum question for a school district to exceed its revenue limit authority, what is the difference between a recurring and non-recurring referendum question?