From the desk of the Administrator: Reynolds on School District of Tomahawk’s upcoming referendum
By Terry Reynolds
School District of Tomahawk Administrator
TOMAHAWK – On Tuesday, Aug. 11, 2020, the Tomahawk School Board adopted a resolution authorizing a vote on the following question to appear on the ballot for the Nov. 3, 2020, election:
“Shall the School District of Tomahawk, Lincoln and Oneida Counties, Wisconsin be authorized to exceed the revenue limit specified in Section 121.91, Wisconsin Statutes, by $3,500,000 per year beginning with the 2021-2022 school year and ending with the 2024-2025 school year, for non-recurring purposes consisting of expenses for ongoing educational and facility needs?”
Why do we need to have an operational referendum?
Wisconsin Act 16 implemented revenue limits beginning with the 1993-94 school year. The average annual increase in the Tomahawk’s District revenues has been an average of 2 percent. Expenses such as personnel costs, bussing, energy and utilities, and maintenance projects on the other hand have easily outpaced revenue increases (4%), which in turn have forced the district to make reductions in staffing, programs, and maintenance expenditures. Declining student enrollment and an increase in equalized property valuations during the last ten years have compounded the problem, as state aid formulas and revenue limit calculations are based on both of these factors, which has resulted in less revenues coming into the district.
School districts must seek permission from local residents in order to raise additional revenue for the district’s operating budget beyond the revenue limits imposed by state statute.
The previous four-year non-recurring referendum dollar amount, approved by residents in April of 2017, will expire on June 30, 2021; therefore, this $3 million will come off the tax levy in 2021. In order to continue current student programming and building maintenance needs, we are asking district residents to pass another four-year non- recurring referendum on Nov. 3.
How will a successful referendum affect my property taxes?
Approval of the referendum to exceed the revenue limit would add an additional $3,500,000 in revenues for each of the next four years (2021-22 through 2024-2025). The impact from a successful referendum would add the following average property owner’s financial impact on a home value of $100,000: annual impact, $17; monthly impact, $1.42.
How do our current mill rates compare with other area public schools?
According to the 2019-20 Wisconsin DPI statistics, Tomahawk ranks 5th among the 10 area schools. Area schools and their mill levy rates for 2019-20 were: Wausau – $10.06; Marathon – $10.79; Prentice – $10.17; Rhinelander – $10.15; DC Everest – $10.97; Tomahawk – $9.24; Mosinee – $8.67; Merrill – $8.56; Antigo – $7.26; and Northland Pines – $5.89.
With the passage of the referendum, the Tomahawk mill rate would raise $0.17. The Tomahawk rank would not change, according to the above rates with an average of $9.41 per thousand.
How would the district use the referendum funds?
The funds are necessary to maintain current student educational programming and provide students with updated technology as needed.
The funds would also be used to continue to maintain the PK-12 facility to the same high level that everyone expects and has experienced in the past.
Do other districts face similar financial challenges?
More than half of Wisconsin’s 426 school districts have held similar referenda to exceed the revenue controls. The School Districts of Rhinelander, Merrill, and Northland Pines just recently passed $2,500,000-$4,500,000 per year operational referendums within the last two years.
What will happen if the referendum is defeated?
With an average yearly shortfall of $3,929,097 predicted for the next four years, the School Board will need to make some very difficult decisions regarding cuts in staffing, student educational programming, and building maintenance. All areas will be on the table for consideration, since we could not afford to continue to dip into the District fund balance to cover the costs for the current educational programming and building maintenance expenses.
It is very likely that there would be another referendum attempt in April 2021, to avoid such drastic cuts in academic and co-curricular programming.
How can I get informed?
During the month of October, the district will be hosting two informational meetings to provide residents with an opportunity to gather more information on the referendum. The dates and times are as follows: Tuesday, Oct. 6, 2020, located in the Tomahawk HS Auditorium beginning, at 6:00 p.m.; and Thursday, Oct. 22, 2020, located in the Tomahawk HS Auditorium, beginning at 6:00 p.m.
Due to the COVID-19 situation we are hosting this meeting virtually, and we do recommend you choose this virtual option if at all possible. The access information is posted on the district website at www.tomahawk.k12.wi.us/district/referendum.cfm.