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School officials worried over bill to limit funding referendums

Danielle Kaeding

Wisconsin Public Radio

Eleven Wisconsin school districts will ask voters for more money next week and another 53 school districts will do the same this April. But some education officials are worried about a bill that would limit when schools can hold votes to ask for financial support.

Referendums allow schools to ask voters whether they’d pay more in property taxes to support operations or building projects.

Rhinelander Schools Superintendent Kelli Jacobi said they’re holding a referendum next week to avoid closing two charter schools and cutting some athletics and other extracurriculars. But under a Republican-backed measure, districts like Rhinelander could no longer schedule referendums during primary elections.

Jacobi said limiting scheduling also limits local control.

"The legislators are tying my hands and school boards across our state in going to our taxpayers to ask them to support us when the state won’t," she said. "They’re limiting the opportunities for our taxpayers to make decisions about funding our schools."

Superior School District is holding a referendum in April, during a general election day, which would be allowed under the bill. Even so, administrator Janna Stevens agreed with Jacobi.

"It is surprising and frustrating to me that the (Legislature) wants to get involved in the local control a school board currently has," she said.

Supporters of the bill say limiting referendums to April and November elections will allow more voters to weigh in on whether they want to pay more for schools.

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