Gibraltar Schools to Ask for Recurring Referendum

The Gibraltar School Board will be looking for voters to approve a recurring $2,875,000 revenue limit override this November.

The school’s current two-year override referendum, which asked for the same amount of money annually, retires as of the 2012-13 school year. At its June 25 meeting the board decided that, rather than ask for another limited-term referendum, it was time to ask the community to make a long-term commitment to self-funding the district.

Referendum money currently accounts for about 30 percent of the district’s $9,875,000 budget, with the other $7,000,000 coming from regular state property tax funds. The amount of money the district can raise via property tax has been limited since 1993 by Wisconsin Act 16, which outlined a complicated formula to control the revenue a school district is entitled to receive based on previous state aid, local levies and enrollment figures.

The amount of money the district has asked for via revenue limit override referendums has increased by a large amount since the district’s first $200,000 referendum in 1997, but it has held fairly steady for the past four school years.

Superintendent Steve Seyfer said that this is because the district has now found a new baseline budget number.

“Back in 1997, we had a body in which we could let out the budget by asking for a little bit extra, but always it was with a beltline of about $7,000,000,” he said. “We’ve reached the time in which letting that out and asking for a little bit more on top of our beltline of $7,000,000 is no longer realistic. We need to establish a new beltline.”

Board member Suzanne Brennan, who works on the school’s financial planning committee, said that the school intends to hold the budget steady for as long as possible.

“Costs have increased, but we’ve held our referendum asks steady for the past three years…We’ve cut costs in order to hold it steady, so we’re not asking for more money,” she said.

Some of those cuts have come from reducing the amount of teaching and administrative staff on the payroll. Administrative staff has been reduced to just four positions, and earlier this year the school board voted to increase class sizes and thus decrease the number of teachers in classrooms.

The school board is also facing a reduction in state funding by over $500,000 next year as a result of changes in the state’s 2011-13 biennium budget, which reduced the revenue limit. In addition to that, the school will lose another $10,000 due to declining enrollment and a loss of per student funds.

In light of increasing costs and decreasing state funding, Brennan and others on the board feel that perpetually securing the funds that the community has been providing each biennium is essential.

“I think it’s representing a responsible step for the school, in that we can all sigh a little bit easier,” said Brennan. “We can financially plan without fear of the school imploding without a referendum because, as we’ve explored in financial planning, it would.”

Mike Peot was the only board member to vote against placing the recurring override referendum on the November ballot. His issues with the referendum had nothing to do with the school’s need for the money, which he said was not a question, but instead focused on how a recurring referendum could potentially affect future support for the school.

“If we go five years without doing a referendum and then need to go back and reinvent the wheel,” he said, “we’re going to find a whole different community.”

In response, board member Martha Luber Pelrine said that, in all likelihood, this November’s referendum is not going to mean the end of referendums at Gibraltar, and that the board will have to continue to work to keep the community invested in the district.

“We’re not really making this go away,” she said. “Who knows what’s going to happen at the state level, but there’re going to be changes, and we’re going to need to go back to referendum.”