Madison School Board members indicated support Monday for a smaller operating referendum on the November ballot than the $36 million ask that has been discussed over the past few months.
Board members supported lowering the request to $33 million, broken down over four years, during discussion Monday night. That was one of three options staff presented to the board Monday night in response to some board members requesting less than the $36 million.
The board is expected to vote on the operating ballot question March 23 along with a separate capital referendum question. Both will likely be on the November ballot.
Board members also indicated support for a slight increase in the capital referendum Monday, from the $315 million that has been discussed in the past up to $317 million. The additional $2 million would go toward sustainability projects not in the initial amount, which includes funding for renovations to the four comprehensive high schools, a new south-side elementary school and moving Capital High School into a single location in the Hoyt school building.
MMSD chief financial officer Kelly Ruppel said it made sense financially given the payoff of sustainability projects within 12 to 13 years.
“(An additional $2 million) literally does not change our estimated mill rate impact for the average homeowner a penny,” Ruppel said. “It barely changes, in pennies, the (total yearly) impact on the average homeowner.”
The capital referendum would add an average of about $140 per year on the property tax bill for an average homeowner over the 22 years following the referendum. The operating tax impact under the $33 million ask would be $80 on the average home, increasing by that amount each of the four years.
Ruppel pointed out that staff restructured the 22-year capital debt plan to implement bond repayments over time and avoid large first-year increases, ultimately saving $224 over four years for homeowners on the capital referendum.
Board member Cris Carusi said she had initially been concerned about how much the district was asking for in the capital referendum price tag, but in seeing the projects they’ll be able to accomplish she’s confident the community will see it as a long-term investment.
“All you have to do is walk into Sun Prairie High School or Waunakee High School to realize we’re not keeping up,” Carusi said. “This is a bold move that we have to take as a community.”
The operating referendum would increase taxes incrementally over four years, eventually giving the district an extra $32 million in revenue authority over state limits in perpetuity. The options in front of the board going into Monday night would add authority over the four years as follows:
Board members indicated they liked the $6M/$8M/$9M/$10M option because it still allowed for some investment in Strategic Equity Projects while also maintaining a level of responsibility to the taxpayers.
“It’s really important that as a responsible board that we don’t tax any more than we need,” board member Savion Castro said. “I’m really happy that we were able to be able to balance a budget in this way and actually pare down the ask.”
A successful operating referendum would allow for investments in various projects that could include full reading curriculum adoption in 2020-21 and a pay raise for Safety and Security Assistants at schools, among other possibilities like an all-day 4-year-old kindergarten pilot or daily world language instruction at middle schools.
Because the referendum isn’t until November, the fiscal year will have to begin under a “not passing” budget in July. That means any investments made through the referendum will have to be into programs that can be started mid-year.
Some board members pushed to go to the $5 million option for year one, but they settled on asking for $6 million with the knowledge they can choose not to use all of it. Board member Ali Muldrow stressed that no matter how much they ask for, if they determine the funding is unnecessary, they can simply tax less than the maximum.
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