Referendum

7 April 2021

Last night, we learned that the referendum question for the Oconto Falls School District was approved by voters in the spring election.

As a result, the district will be able to maintain effective programming and services and move forward with expanded course offerings and ongoing building maintenance.  Funds will also enable us to ensure staff compensation is competitive with neighboring districts and provide for additional security improvements at each building.

We would like to thank the communities that we serve for the great conversations we have had regarding the future of our local schools.  We are incredibly grateful for your support and engagement around these important issues.


On Tuesday, April 6, 2021, the Oconto Falls School District Board of Education is asking for the community’s approval for a $4.4 million referendum to address the district’s most pressing needs. The referendum would begin at $3.3 million in the first year and then increase by $275,000 per year until stabilizing at $4.4 million in 2025:

  • Ongoing building maintenance 
  • Expanded course offerings
  • Making staff compensation competitive with neighboring districts
  • Additional security improvements at each building

The referendum would enable the district to continue to advance its community-developed strategic plan, while following its guiding principle of “students first” by sustaining academic programs, technology for learning, and student support services. It would also secure the financial resources necessary to sustain and improve district operations and educational programming well into the future.

Additionally, the recurring nature of this referendum will allow the district to create better long-term financial plans, resulting in greater long-term sustainability for our schools, students, and families. 

View the official board approved referendum question for the April 2021 election – LINK


Updates

Frequently Asked Questions

Below are answers to some common questions about the district’s needs and the solution that will appear on the ballot April 6, 2021. If you have any further questions, we encourage you to contact us.

What are the district’s needs?

The Oconto Falls School District has a number of financial needs resulting from the lack of predictable and sustainable funding for rural Wisconsin school districts. Our district has dealt with budget deficits since 1993, when the state government capped revenues for all public schools. 

Now, the district is seeing a decline in enrollments that are resulting in a reduction in the district’s state-imposed revenue limit faster than the district’s ability to have cost savings. 

In just the past five years, the district has reduced the number of full-time positions, decreased health insurance coverage, and asked employees to pay a greater percentage of insurance premiums. The district has also come in under budget every year, allocating any extra funds for future capital improvement needs.

If we do not take action soon, the district will need to cut up to $3.9 million from its operating budget for each of the next five years, beginning in 2022.

One of the most significant challenges facing the Oconto Falls School District is the lack of predictable, sustainable funding for rural school districts like ours. Our district has dealt with budget deficits since 1993, when the state government capped revenues for all public schools. In just the past five years, the District has:

  • Reduced the number of full-time positions. 
  • Decreased health insurance coverage and asked employees to pay a greater percentage of premiums. 
  • Come in under budget every year and allocate these funds for future capital improvement needs.

Oconto Falls voters approved a time-limited referendum in 2017 that allowed us to:

  • Replace a majority of our aging bus fleet.
  • Update the speed and reliability of the technology infrastructure.
  • Increase the salary schedule to pay our staff at a competitive level with our neighboring schools.
  • Purchase up-to-date literacy textbooks/curriculum at the elementary and middle school levels.
  • Maintain online curriculum software subscriptions.
  • Invest in building maintenance and security enhancements.

Yes. In 2017, Oconto Falls voters approved a time-limited referendum that allowed the district to address a number of critical needs. That referendum is set to expire unless voters approve a replacement.

The 2017 referendum had a substantial impact on the school district, allowing us to move forward with the following:

  • Replacing some buses
  • Updating the speed and reliability of the technology infrastructure
  • Increasing the salary schedule to pay our staff at a competitive level with our neighboring schools
  • Purchasing up-to-date literacy textbooks/curriculum at the elementary and middle school levels
  • Maintaining online curriculum software subscriptions
  • Investing in building maintenance and security enhancements

Without a replacement referendum, the district will face a budget shortfall averaging $3.9 million annually (16% of the annual budget) for each of the next five years. To that end, up to $3.9 million would need to be cut from the current budget, resulting in a significant loss of programming and opportunities for students.

An approved referendum would not lead to an increase in property taxes. In fact, the district’s portion of tax bills would decrease over the next five years. 

In 2021, property taxes would increase by about $17 for every $100,000 of assessed property value. However, taxes would then decrease by $107 in 2022; by $92 in 2023; by $40 in 2024; and by $11 in 2025 on a home worth $100,000. 

The tax decrease in the second year and beyond would be possible due to the district paying off existing debt. Please view the graphics below for a visual explanation of the average property tax impact.

For a further breakdown and an example of how to calculate the school portion of a property tax bill, please view the video explanation below.

If the referendum is approved, the Oconto Falls School District would use the funds generated for the following:

  • Ongoing building maintenance 
  • Expanded course offerings
  • Making staff compensation competitive with neighboring districts
  • Additional security improvements at each building

The referendum would enable the district to continue to advance its community-developed strategic plan, while following its guiding principle of “students first” by sustaining academic programs, technology for learning, and student support services. It would also secure the financial resources necessary to sustain and improve district operations and educational programming well into the future.

The Board of Education carefully considered the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on our school district and community. However, the pandemic has not changed the fact that the district has a number of critical financial needs that we must address to ensure our students continue to have access to a high-quality education.

Without a replacement referendum, the Oconto Falls School District will face a budget shortfall averaging $3.9 million annually (16% of the annual budget) for each of the next five years. Not approving the referendum in April would mean $3.9 million will need to be cut from the current budget and significant programming will be lost. 

While property taxes would increase by about $17 for every $100,000 of assessed property value in 2021 if the referendum is approved, taxes would then decrease by $107 in 2022; by $92 in 2023; by $40 in 2024; and by $11 in 2025 on a home worth $100,000. 

The tax decrease in the second year and beyond would be possible due to the district paying off existing debt. 

The Board of Education has approved the following question for the community’s consideration on April 6, 2021:

Shall the School Board of the Oconto Falls Public School District be authorized to exceed the revenue limit under Section 121.91 of the Wisconsin Statutes on a recurring basis over a period of five years beginning with the 2021-22 school year by an amount of $3,300,000 in the 2021-22 school year and $275,000 in each of the 2022-23, 2023-24, 2024-25 and 2025-26 school years aggregating total recurring revenue cap relief of $4,400,000 in the 2025-26 school year and thereafter for the purpose of maintaining current programs and services and funding building maintenance, competitive staff compensation, expanded course offerings and additional building security improvements as provided in the foregoing resolution?

At a recent meeting, the Board of Education approved administration to continue moving forward with gathering information regarding a potential 2022 capital referendum. As part of this process, the district worked with Nexus Solutions to conduct an audit of our facilities to determine the maintenance needs in each building. This audit includes feedback on our current middle school.  

We anticipate that the board will receive a briefing in May regarding this facilities audit. The board and administration will then work together to determine if a capital referendum makes sense. If the board decides to move ahead with a capital referendum, it will need to determine if improvements would be made to the existing middle school or if a new middle school should be built.

The bottom line is that there are many steps the board will take before making decisions regarding our middle school needs. The question on the April 6 ballot addresses the district’s financial needs.

District residents can cast their ballots at their usual polling location. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many residents are expected to vote by mail. For more information on requesting a mail-in ballot, visit https://myvote.wi.gov/en-us/VoteAbsentee.