More than two decades ago, Sturgeon Bay voters defeated a referendum for additional funding support for the Sturgeon Bay School District. Since then, however, district residents have supported the public school district’s educational operational programming referenda, and Sturgeon Bay Schools Superintendent Dan Tjernagel hopes to see continued support on April 5.
Tjernagel said that historically, the district has asked voters to override the district’s funding limit by slightly more in each year following an operational referendum approval. For example, voters in April 2019 approved limits of $2.9 million in 2019-20, $3.2 million in 2020-21 and $3.6 million in 2021-22.
“Our board has ‘underlevied’ in recent years, meaning that they have not taxed to their authority – or put another way, have not actually used the entire revenue-limit override amount authorized for that year of the operational referendum if we didn’t need it,” Tjernagel said.
This January, the Sturgeon Bay School Board unanimously approved going to the voters this spring for revenue-limit override amounts of $2.6 million in 2022-23, $2.9 million in 2023-24, $3.3 million in 2024-25, $3.5 million in 2025-26 and $3.8 million in 2026-27.
“Four of the five years would ask for less than what the voters had approved for the current school/fiscal year,” Tjernagel said.
The superintendent said that various budgeting moves, Wisconsin’s Act 10 and an influx of federal funds in recent years have helped the district decrease its request to voters in the first year after this referendum by $1 million from this year’s $3.6 million maximum. Tjernagel reiterated that it’s hard to project a tax rate based on the revenue-limit override amounts because the board typically has not approved tax levies for those total amounts.
“We do project a rate, but we let people know this is simply a projection. We’ve been very conservative,” Tjernagel said.
He said the only year that he recalls when any major tax surprise for property owners came was two years ago, when a reassessment of property values across the City of Sturgeon Bay affected tax bills in the same year when the voter-approved school-construction and refurbishment costs first showed up on those bills.
This past fall, the district conducted a community survey in advance of this operational referendum that did not show many “red flags” about support for the public schools, Tjernagel said.
The district circulated information to voters this month that the requested additional taxing authority would result in a mill rate next year of $10.73, or a $4 tax increase (33 cents per month) for an owner of a $100,000 house. The district newsletter shows a projected mill rate of $10.92 in the second year, $11.20 the third year, $11.28 the fourth year and $11.46 the fifth year.
Two decades ago, board requests to override the district’s taxing limits came as something new to voters. A Sturgeon Bay referendum requesting three years of exceeding the funding limit failed in 1999, around the time when states nationwide were taking actions to provide tax relief, Tjernagel said. But operational referenda passed in 2007, 2010, 2013, 2016 and 2019 in the Sturgeon Bay district.
The district’s community newsletter said the referendum would allow the district to maintain the “resources we need to provide quality educational programs and the staff members who are needed to work with our students.”
The administration and district business office has told voters that $2.6 million – the revenue-limit override amount requested for the 2022-23 school year – would be the equivalent of approximately 22 teacher positions out of a total of 104, 18 support-staff positions and three director/administrator positions out of a current total of 10. A failed referendum could, district officials said, theoretically result in more job losses and fewer instructors for students in subsequent years.
What the School District Wants
$2.6 million in 2022-23
$2.9 million in 2023-24
$3.3 million in 2024-25
$3.5 million in 2025-26
$3.8 million in 2026-27
How Much It Would Cost Taxpayers
Per $100,000 of property tax value
2023 mill rate of $10.73, or a $4 tax increase
2024 mill rate of $10.92
2025 mill rate of $11.20
2026 mill rate of $11.28
2027 mill rate of $11.46