Voters authorized both referendums

By Jason Arndt

When residents in the Wheatland School District headed to the polls last week to answer two questions, they took a look into the future and renewed the operational referendum and authorized a capital improvement referendum.

The operational referendum, which allows the district to exceed revenue limits by $625,000 a year for four years, renews a current referendum that voters passed four years ago to maintain educational programming.

According to District Administrator Marty McGinley, residents acknowledged the state funding formula inhibits the school’s ability to maintain services, which led to the approval on a 465-367 decision.

“The Wheatland community seems to understand that the school finance system in Wisconsin does not work for Wheatland or many other districts,” he said. “I worry about other communities in the state that don’t support an operating referendum.”

While Wheatland and Randall schools approved their operational referendums, the Delavan-Darien School District in Walworth County saw its referendum fail on April 3.

For Wheatland Center School, the voters’ decision was critical to its survival, McGinley said.

“Unless something changes, the operating referendum is beyond critical to Wheatland’s survival,” he said. “There is no financial alternative at this time.”

Meanwhile, for the $8.45 capital improvement referendum, 444 voters showed support and 367 voters opposed.

Unlike an operational referendum, residents easily could see the school’s aging infrastructure, McGinley said.

“Facilities referendums make more sense to people in that you are asking the community to approve a solution that is tangible in nature,” he said. “Most people understand you have to maintain buildings, as we all have to repair our homes as well.”

Planned improvements include replacing an aging heating, ventilation and air conditioning system, adding new safety features such as installing cameras, and other items.

McGinley said replacing the HVAC system takes up more than half of the referendum’s cost.

“The facility referendum allows us to update the facility and prepare the mechanicals in the building for the next 20 years,” he said. “It also will allow us to highlight some of the programs that make Wheatland special and give our students appropriate space to do STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and math).”

Other items slated for improvement include renovating classrooms for early childhood education, 4-year-old kindergarten and art.

With approval of both referendums, McGinley expressed gratitude toward the community and people inside the school for showing support.

“I am extremely thankful to the community for their support, and I look forward to working with all Wheatland stakeholders to take the next step in this process,” he said. “In addition, I need to mention how proud I am of our students and staff.”

The mill rate will see an increase of 48 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value. Homeowners who have a property valued at $200,000 will see a $96 uptick on their annual tax bill.

McGinley, however, said the district would use funds from the taxpayers wisely.

“For those who had questions about this solution, we promise to work tirelessly to further demonstrate the value of our mission and justify its importance to our community,” he said. “We will continue to be good stewards of public dollars and the community resources entrusted to us.”

Under the current operating referendum set to expire, the district saved taxpayer money, noting the mill rate went from $9.44 before it passed to $8.19 this year.

The district opted to under-levy by $125,000 in the latest budget.


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