Opinion: Vote No On School Referendums
By John Dalton, Special to Kenosha County Eye
There seems to be a common thread with operational school referendums aimed at exceeding the state mandated revenue caps. Schools claim that they don’t have enough money, need taxpayers to pony up even more or the children that they serve will be severely impacted. The needs (or is it wants?) are endless. They will tell you teachers and staff may have to be axed (but never administration), and class sizes will increase – ‘A vote against the referendum is a vote against kids’ many will proclaim. And ‘after-all, the tax increase won’t be all that much’.
Such is the case of Riverview Elementary School and Wilmot Union HS where both seek huge increases in property taxes with operational referendums on the ballot this spring election on April 4.
In the case of Riverview the request is for an additional $2.4M over three years. The mill rate will increase from $4.19 to approximately $5.62, a 34% increase. To put that in perspective, the owner of a $150K house will pay an additional $643 and a $250K house is in for a $1126 bump. For folks, especially those with fixed incomes, pressed by rising food, gas and housing costs, the burden will be heavy.
Wilmot UHS is asking for even more, $8.4M over two years. A large portion of the increase will be used to replenish money “borrowed” from reserve accounts to support over-spending in previous years. They are telling taxpayers that their property tax bill will not increase if the referendum is passed. How can that be? It’s how they represent the increase. As previous referendums time-frames expire a new one will take its place. Per the District’s web site if the referendum is defeated the two-year savings on a $150K house will be approximately $272 and $453 on a $250K house. That’s hardly nothing.
For those families unlucky enough to reside in both overlapping districts the total tax impact is staggering. In our examples of a $150K house the increase will be $915 and a $250K house increases by $1579. And that’s just the increase on top of the regular taxes. Think of anything you might be able to do with that amount of money in your pocket?
Each school blames declining revenues as a need for more money. Also cited are stagnant or declining enrollment, therefore less government funding. Are we to believe that fewer students require more funds? In the past taxpayers were told the school needed to raise taxes because of increasing enrollment. Schools that need to increase taxes both when enrollment is up and down are not managing their finances properly.
Both schools also cite loss of ESSER funding, which are expiring government grants to combat COVID costs. With COVID not a factor, why should the taxpayers replenish what is no longer needed? Both Wilmot and Riverview used these one-time ESSER funds to hire more permanent staff with no plan to pay for these costs after the ESSER funds ran out. This poor planning of “buy it now and hopefully raise taxes later” is bad fiscal policy.
The bottom line is that both institutions need to deal with budget constraints and challenges just like taxpayers must do every day of their lives. You can be both “for the kids” and also be against excessive spending. Prioritize needs from wants. These referendums are not needed and both should be defeated.