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BURLINGTON—The Burlington Area School District (BASD) school board has approved placing an operating referendum on the April 4 ballot.

The Burlington Area School District operating referendum asks residents to support exceeding the current revenue limit by $8 million a year for three years. Funds would be used for general operating expenses.

BASD’s 2022-2023 general operating budget is $44,950,266.

On the ballot: Burlington Area School District operating referendum

On the ballot for Burlington will be the following question:

BE IT RESOLVED by the School Board of the Burlington Area School District, Racine, Walworth and Kenosha Counties, Wisconsin that the revenues included in the School District budget be authorized to exceed the revenue limit specified in Section 121.91, Wisconsin Statutes, by $8,000,000 per year for the 2023-2024 school year through the 2025-2026 school year, for non-recurring purposes consisting of operational and maintenance expenses.

The spring election is on April 4.

Funding source

Wisconsin public school districts receive funding primarily from two sources: state general aid and local property taxes. A formula determines the amount of funding that a district will receive.

“Schools using referenda have, by default, become part of the new Wisconsin school funding formula,” BASD Superintendent Stephen Plank shared.

More than 80 percent of school districts across Wisconsin have asked their communities to exceed the revenue limit to cover the actual cost of educating K-12 students, according to a press release from BASD.

Funding challenges

“In part, school districts face the rising costs that all taxpayers face. Goods and services cost more. Schools need to provide competitive wages to attract and retain staff, especially with a teacher shortage,” the release continues.

BASD states they have few options for generating more revenue, saying they have pursued applying for grants and accepting private donations.

In the press release, the district states that the government mandates public schools to offer services that can’t be cut or scaled back to reduce spending.

“In 2022-2023, required special education services cost the district $9,101,565. The state reimburses the Burlington Area School District $1,919,024 – only 30 percent of eligible expenditures. The district
transfers $5,938,649 from general operations to fund special education,” says the release.

Difficulties ahead

If the operating referendum doesn’t pass, the district will be forced to cut approximately 10 percent of its 2023-2024 budget, or around $5 million, to close the growing gap between increased costs and revenue.

This would contribute to layoffs, redirecting the temporary federal ESSER (Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief) funds toward operations, reducing the maintenance budget, and using fund balance. How much each district receives is based on the percentage of low-income students enrolled there.

“Without operating referendum funding, going into the 2024- 2025 school year, more severe budget cuts will be required to confront an estimated $8 million budget deficit,” says the district.

COVID-19’s impact

Not only does the district note that financial challenges will continue in the future if the referendum isn’t passed, but the release states the district has warned the community about the growing budget gap since 2020.

COVID-19 closed in-person instruction, allowing the district to save on some everyday expenses. However, when in-person instruction resumed, the federal ESSER funds added short-term, temporary revenue toward COVID-19-related expenses and to address learning loss because of the pandemic.

BASD has resumed complete daily operations and with increased costs across the board, the funding gap has grown.

Financial increases

The 2023-2024 preliminary budget assumes health care coverage costs will increase by 10 percent, wage increases at the Consumer Price Index (CPI) to match inflation will be around eight percent, and anticipates that the state will increase its per-pupil funding by $200 per student, according to BASD.

View a copy of the BASD Budget here.

According to the district, the 2023-2024 preliminary budget already factors in additional reductions of spending. The BASD continues to reduce staff by not filling every job vacancy that comes open.

“A successful operating referendum would allow for the district to provide the same high-quality comprehensive education to Burlington students that our community has come to expect. This is not about adding luxuries,” Plank said.

The district believes passing the referendum will help the district support the neighborhood schools, maintain reasonable class sizes, and provide comprehensive course offerings in academic, co-curricular, and extra-curricular programs.

“Burlington students should be a priority for the community. What is at stake is not only what some may perceive as extras, but the essentials, and represents a generational choice for our community and the students that BASD serves,” concludes Plank.

Information sessions

Community members are invited to attend informational sessions to learn more about the
operating referendum and ask questions on the following dates:

Community organizations can schedule presentations by contacting Julie Thomas at 262-763-0210. Learn more about the referendum online. On the webpage, questions about the referendum can be submitted too.