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School board introduces referendum

By Leah Linscheid, llinscheid@wkbt.com
Published On: Dec 24 2013 07:47:13 PM CST
Updated On: Dec 18 2013 08:53:09 AM CST

WKBT, News8000.com

LA CROSSE, WI (WKBT) -

For the third time in the last decade, the La Crosse School District is considering asking voters for more money.

An operating referendum will likely appear on the upcoming Spring ballot after school board members introduced the idea at Monday's meeting. The measure would allow the district to spend $23.75 million over five years, or $4.75 million each year.

The $4.175 million current referendum expires at the end of this school year - it was voted into place back in 2008. Administrators are asking for another five-year commitment to avoid cutting programs and teachers.

"We've had two consecutive five-year referendums that our community has supported, so we're asking our community to re-commit, support us one more time, support public education and their school district," said Randy Nelson, the district's superintendent.

The nearly $5 million a year would fund teachers and other staff, building maintenance, and new technology upgrades - stuff the current referendum is already working to keep. The district's security upgrades were paid for by the expiring measure.

Janet Rosseter is the district's director of business services, and she's the one keeping tabs on every school budget. She wasn't surprised by the need for yet another referendum.

"I'd like to have a year where I could deliver could news that we have enough money this year to meet all the needs of all the programs," she said. "That hasn't happened yet, and I don't expect that it will [ever] happen."

It's certainly not happening this year. Taxpayers are paying about $100 yearly on a home valued at $100,000 under the current referendum - the new measure would bump that up by about $15. But without it, Rossester said teachers will be the first to go.

"If we don't pass the referendum we'll have to make dramatic cuts to staff, because they make up 83 percent of our budget," she said. 

Nelson is concerned for the effect it would have on students' ability to learn one-on-one from teachers.

"The impact that it will have on our classrooms will be to raise class sizes, probably at elementary, and middle, and high school [levels]," he said.

School referendums aren't exactly rare in Wisconsin. During the 2012-2013 school year, 28 were passed in the state, and 13 failed. Both of La Crosse's previous referendums, voted on in 2004 and 2008, passed. 

The School Board still has to sign off on the referendum. If members approve it, the measure will show up on April's ballot for voters to make the final decision.

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