Reynolds: ‘Tomahawk referendum – You spoke, we listened’
By Terry Reynolds
School District of Tomahawk Administrator
The School District of Tomahawk is pursuing a $3.25 million per year operational referendum in the April 6, 2021 election. This non-recurring referendum would begin in the 2021-22 school year and end in 2024-25. I have been asked numerous times to explain the process that has gotten us to this point and its reasoning. I feel the best way to do that is to start at the beginning.
In March 2020, the District conducted a facility audit of the school. The study pinpointed numerous mechanical, HVAC, plumbing, electrical, ventilation, site, and security needs. The highest priority items, those recommended to be addressed within the next five years, came to a sum of $26 million.
Additionally, the District’s previous four-year non-recurring dollar amount, approved by residents in April of 2017, is set to expire on June 30, 2021, taking $3 million off the tax levy. Without those funds and continually decreasing state aid, the District estimates an average budget shortfall of nearly $4 million per year over the next four years (2021-2025).
In response to these two issues, the District conducted a community survey in the summer of 2020 to gauge the level of support for an operational referendum to maintain current programs and services versus a capital improvement referendum to address more extensive maintenance needs. Survey results showed 62% of respondents favored an operational referendum.
Following this advice, the District put an operational referendum averaging $3.5 million per year over four years on the Nov. 2020 ballot. The question failed by only 51 votes. The Board of Education was back to the drawing board.
Following the failed referendum, the District revisited the survey results. Responses showed the community values the District’s small class sizes, a wide variety of program offerings, and high-quality staff. One comment stood out that said, “Education is important. A school matters to a town. But with the cost of everything rising, school districts must adjust their goals, outlook, and way of accomplishing their mission.” The District embraced this message and created a list of needs to maintain educational programming and address ongoing maintenance concerns without increasing taxes.
If the April 2021 referendum passes, taxpayers will see an average decrease of $0.07 per thousand dollars of property value the first year, with additional reductions in years two, three, and four. Operationally, the District will maintain current course offerings, fund field trips and co-curricular activities, and invest in necessary classroom materials and technology. From a maintenance standpoint, the District will replace broken piping, leaking urinals, rusty lockers, and aged boilers.
Thank you to the entire community for your advice throughout this endeavor. Your feedback has been invaluable. For more information about the referendum, including a list of proposed needs and tax implications, visit www.tomahawk.k12.wi.us/referendum.cfm.