Door County Election News: Gibraltar School Referendum

Fall is here. It is an election year. Which means if you live in the Gibraltar School District, it is once again time to vote on the biennial school program funding referendum. This has been on the ballot every other year since the fall of 1998 when decreasing enrollment became a factor at Gibraltar. This referendum is to maintain a continuous level of educational programming under the current Wisconsin school funding law enacted in 1993.

This measure is not for any specific new programs, facility improvements, or staffing – it is to continue programming already at the school. This does not mean there will be no changes to the curriculum. Schools must be constantly updating what is taught and how it is taught in a cost effective manner. Gibraltar is a leaner organization than it was in 1998. This referendum maintains what a Gibraltar education currently is – small class sizes in the early elementary years and an education that is rich in academic, arts, activity and athletic experiences. In other words, the goal is to graduate students that are well-rounded young adults prepared to move forward in the 21st century.

Wisconsin school funding statutes require that a school district go to referendum (a public vote) any time the district needs to exceed the state’s defined revenue limit or cap. That limit is the amount of money a district is allowed to collect from property taxes and state aids added together. The formula is based on an actual head count of students on the third Friday in September multiplied by a state-defined dollar amount per student. This amount has never increased as much as the rate of inflation. Thus, over the years schools fall behind and make cuts. Schools with declining enrollments lose even more money. Schools in areas with a growing population do well financially with the revenue limit formula, but all are held to the same state standards and requirements. Providing a quality education in a declining enrollment school is a very, very difficult task without the referendum option.

The Gibraltar district is unique in many ways. Our standardized test scores (one measure of academic achievement) shine when compared with schools around the state. Our geography means we have long bus rides. We only border (by land) one other school district. A high proportion of our population is retired without direct family connection to the school. Our average income is below the state average. We have the largest property value per student ratio in the state for a K – 12 district with over $6 million of property per full time student. This means that the school portion of what you pay in property taxes is a “good deal” compared with other districts in the county and state. We pay less than half of what an equally valued home in Sturgeon Bay would pay to their school. We pay about a third less than Sevastopol. And this is a district funded approximately 95 percent by local property taxes. There is no equalized aid for Gibraltar.

But a “good deal” is not a reason to ask the public to raise their own taxes. In this uncertain economy, it is even more important to prepare the children of Northern Door County for the world that they will enter as a Gibraltar graduate. These children grow up in an idyllic place with huge community support of their activities, an abundance of summer jobs and a circle of friends that most students have been with since kindergarten. These are all wonderful things. But more than ever before, the world has become a smaller place. Our children are competing against those Wisconsin schools with increasing enrollments that are financially stable as well as children from California to New York to China. The children of this community must be prepared to go out there and be the problem solvers of the 21st century. It starts with education.

The price increase on a 2009 tax bill for this referendum is approximately $6 for a $200,000 home, in 2010 it’s $7, or one additional dollar. Barring major changes to the school funding formula at the state level, this issue will be on the ballot again in the fall of 2010 as it has been every two years since 1998.

A no vote will slash approximately 25 percent from the budget starting in the 2009 – 2010 school year. We urge you to educate yourself about this process. Ask questions of your school board members and school administration. Participate in the process by attending school board meetings. A strong Northern Door Community needs a strong Gibraltar School. VOTE YES.

Martha Pelrine is a member of both the Gibraltar School Board and the political action committee Because All Kids Matter, working to pass the referendum.