Proposed laws would limit local referendums
By Jennifer LeNoble
State Republican lawmakers are seeking a bill to restrict when and how often school districts can ask their local citizens to vote on referendums.
New London School District administrators and board members discussed the impact of Assembly Bill 481 and Senate Bill 355 during the regular scheduled school board meeting on Monday, Dec. 14.
“I believe the reason why some legislators are supporting this is because there are some school districts that have gone to referendum several times over and over for the same issue and community members get tired of that,” said Joseph Marquardt, director of Business Services. “New London has not gone to multiple referendums in almost 20 years.”
If the bill passes, it would prohibit school districts from going back to voters for two years after a referendum failed. It would also require school districts to ask voters to approve referendums only during the spring or fall elections.
Currently, school districts can hold special elections for referendums and can go back to voters during the next scheduled election if a referendum fails.
Passage of the bill would also eliminate the option for school boards to exceed the revenue limit for energy efficiency projects. If a referendum question is rejected by a majority of school districts electors, the district would not be able to borrow for short-term needs.
According to Marquardt, New London needs access to cash flow borrowing to pay bills several months out of the year because of how state aid is paid by the state and how property taxes come in. In addition, the school board would not be able to take out any short-term notes, bonds, or state trust loans during that two year period.
There is no fiscal effect on the state budget for the proposal of this bill.
“I don’t feel like one blanket bill will fit all 400-plus school districts in Wisconsin by just saying you can’t go to referendum if it fails and you can’t have cash flow borrowing,” Marquardt said. “I don’t feel it’s a really effective use of the legislators’ actions by creating this bill.”
Marquardt also said that he had emailed Reps. Kevin Petersen and Dave Murphy, and asked their reasons for co-sponsoring the bill but neither responded. Administrators hope to invite both representatives to a school board meeting to provide more informationabout
“If it is simply about some school districts that have gone to referendums over and over, why would you punish other school district for that,” Marquardt asked. “I don’t see that this bill has been thought through in the way that is fiscally responsible.”
District Administrator Kathy Gwidt had similar comments regarding the impact of the assembly and senate bills.
“New London is a low-spending district and we use our money wisely,” Gwidt said. “Why create something that potentially will penalize folks who weren’t doing anything wrong to begin with?”
Of all the items mentioned that school districts cannot do if a referendum fails, board member Bill Schmidt questioned what districts can do?
“Was there anything drafted that said ‘If a referendum fails here is what you can do’ or is it simply if not, then no?” Schmidt asked Marquardt.
“If not, then no for right now,” Marquardt responded. “We would hope that there is some more careful consideration of that draft form to give school districts like New London more options if that happened.”
Administrators will continue to update school board members as more information is presented regarding the referendum bill.
“At the end of the day I know we would make it work because we have a very supportive community,” Marquardt said.