A. The Monona Grove School District has proposed an operational funding referendum asking district taxpayers for up to an additional $2.6 million for each of the next five school years. Funds would be used for costs associated with sustaining or updating curriculum, technology, personnel, equipment purchases, and facility maintenance.
A. An operational referendum asks voters for permission to exceed the state imposed revenue limits and raise additional money through property taxes for the purpose of funding annual school operations. It is not a “building referendum,” in which voters are asked for permission to borrow money for construction of new buildings, and thus to incur debt.
A. Our community values quality schools, retaining highly qualified teachers to support student achievement, and protecting a tradition of excellence. The state-imposed revenue limits on public schools have not enabled us to keep pace with rising costs.
Revenue limits have been frozen (with no per pupil adjustment) for both years of a state budget cycle for the first time since revenue limits were imposed in 1993-94. In most years, from the 1993 creation of the revenue limit until 2011, there were modest annual increases to help school districts keep pace with inflation. But in 2011-12, the revenue limits were reduced dramatically for the first time since their creation. There have been some minimal increases since then, but revenue limits have been frozen (with no per pupil adjustment) for 2015-16 and 2016-17.
These limits, expressed in per pupil amounts, determine how much money school districts can levy from property taxes to make up for reductions in state aid and meet to rising costs. These limits cannot be exceeded unless the voters approve additional funding.
Our current per pupil funding is at 2008-2009 funding levels. In the meantime, costs have increased. The District has already reduced expenses, cut $2.9 million in the last five years, and saved $3.3 million by refinancing debt. While the school district has been diligent in taking steps to improve efficiency and reduce expenditures in balancing the budget, we can no longer continue to provide essential programs and curriculum, effective class sizes, upgrades for technology infrastructure and equipment, and attract/retain teachers within the District’s allowable revenue limit.
A. Yes. Since 2011, 222 of the 424 school districts in Wisconsin have held operational, referendums to ask their taxpayers for permission to exceed the revenue limits, or in other words, to levy more money from property taxes than the state formula permits.
A. We do not believe there will be substantial increases in our ability to cover our increasing costs over the next five years. Our financial projections indicate a continuing budget shortfall over the next five years.
A. The District has worked to reduce costs by improving efficiency of operation, cutting budgets, in part by reducing staff and refinancing debt over the past several years, as well as by increasing revenue within the limits by increasing student fees, and the rental of Maywood School.
Flat and declining enrollment had led to reductions in state aid even before 2010, and the District responded with budget reductions that included increased class sizes in 2010-11 and reductions in classroom supplies. The dramatic reduction in revenue limits of 2010-11 demanded more significant cuts. The “tools” provided by Act 10 that required defined staff contributions to the Wisconsin Retirement System and to premiums for health and dental benefits were implemented.
Budgets have been cut by over $2.9 million over the past five years. These budget reductions include the following:
Provision of transportation generally only within the statutory two-mile walk zone. (Fees are charge for transportation within this zone.)
Reduction in classroom teacher positions resulting in increased class sizes;
Elimination of some special education teacher positions;
Reduction in time of occupational and physical therapists;
Elimination of numbers of special education and other classroom aides;
Elimination of IMC paraprofessionals;
Reduction in related arts (art, music, physical education) teaching positions at the elementary level;
Reduction in music staffing at the middle and high school levels;
Reduction in athletic and co-curricular budgets at the middle and high school;
Elimination of some custodial positions, replaced by outsourced workers;
A. The Fund Balance is basically the difference between the District’s financial assets and liabilities – the amount of revenue brought in and the amount actually spent. District Policy requires maintenance of a Fund Balance of 15% to 25% of our operating budget in order to maintain our strong bond rating (Aa2) to minimize short-term borrowing, and to be able to cover emergency expenditures. This money is used to pay expenses during the gap between when bills, including staff salaries, must be paid and revenue is received. Supplemental short-term borrowing occurs annually when these funds are not sufficient to make these payments. Additionally, these funds are available for emergency expenditures, such as boiler repairs.
Expenditures from the Fund Balance generally should be made only for one-time costs. If the Fund Balance is used regularly for operating expenses, it would be reduced to zero within a few years.
A. Teacher contracts are offered and returned in May, but the state’s budget is set at a later date. We had not had to make serious cuts for the past couple of years, having already made major cuts from 2010-11 through 2012-13, due to modest increases in the revenue limits. However, the state biennial budget for 2015-17, which was approved by the state legislature after teachers had been hired and students assigned to classes for this year, includes a freeze for 2015-16 that does not enable us to cover costs. The Board determined that Fund Balance could be used to cover the budget shortfall for one year – knowing that we would have to hold a referendum to seek voter approval to raise the levy limits for the following years.
A. If the operational referendum is approved on April 5th by a majority of district voters, the school portion of resident’s property tax would increase by approximately $137 per year for every $100,000 of property value for five years.
A: If approved by the voters, the $2.6 million, 5-year operational referendum would be used to fill the current annual budget deficit of $852,000 and provide funds needed to sustain and update the following:
Curriculum. The estimated additional funding needs are $275,000 annually.
To maintain and improve current instructional programs by providing updated curriculum and related materials including expansion of 4K-5 classroom library materials, purchase of updated textbooks and course materials, recurring license fees, and new curriculum (e.g. Advanced Placement (AP) courses, and related training for teachers and students to assure improved student achievement.
To allow the MGSD to maintain not only its tradition of providing innovative instructional programs but also rewarding co-curricular opportunities important to building essential student skills.
Technology. The use of technology is critical for today’s learner. The MGSD has identified over $1.9 million in needed equipment for technology in teaching and learning. Annual technology funding is estimated to be $300,000:
To purchase, replace, or upgrade outdated technology equipment (labs & workstations) and infrastructure (wiring in buildings, switches, routers, servers, mobile devices, and computers) essential to student learning.
To purchase student IPads and Chromebooks essential to today’s teaching and learning.
Personnel. The estimated additional funding needs are $450,000 annually.
To fund teaching positions to support critical learning for students of all abilities including those seeking Advanced Placement (AP) courses and students with special needs.
To maintain the MGSD commitment to teaching and learning through ongoing professional development.
To reduce or maintain effective class sizes that contribute to optimal teaching and learning for all students.
To offer competitive compensation to attract and retain our quality teaching and support staff.
Equipment Purchases. The MGSD has identified over $975,000 in deferred equipment purchases. The estimated additional annual funding need is $225,000.
To replace outdated and broken classroom equipment including technical education, student desks and tables, cafeteria tables, physical education equipment, and musical instruments.
To purchase equipment essential to the MGSD co-curricular programs.
Facility Maintenance. A District-wide assessment by professional architects and engineers has identified over $14 million in building maintenance needs. Facility needs have been delayed/postponed in order to focus limited revenue on the most critical needs for programs, curriculum and student instruction. The estimated annual funding of $500,000 is necessary to address a variety of needs including safety, security, window replacement, parking lots, roofing needs, boilers, HVAC, and controls.
Note: The above projected annual budget amounts are “estimates.” The actual allocations will be determined by the Monona Grove School Board at its annual budget deliberations.
A. No, the tax increase does not keep adding on top of the prior years. For example, if you are currently paying $1,000 a year in school property taxes and the referendum is approved and your property value is $100,000, the approximate tax increase would be $137 added to your school property taxes totaling $1,137. For the next four years, if school levy rate stayed the same, your school property taxes would remain at $1,137. After 5 years, if a new referendum is not brought back to the voters and approved, the approximate school tax increase of $137 would fall off the taxes.
A. The district's financial position changes annually based on the state financial aid and imposed revenue limits, enrollment changes, general inflation, market demands to retain teachers, and unanticipated needs and expenditures. The administration and Board currently evaluates and responds to these factors with each annual budget. However, if voters approve the April 5th referendum it will (a) reduce the backlog of our most pressing needs, and put us in a more favorable financial condition, (b) offer the legislature two biennial state budgets to support public education and reduce reliance on the local property tax, and (c) allow the Monona Grove School Board to re-examine its future needs, revenue and expenditures consistent with its mission and strategic plan. If at that time, when the referendum expires in 2020-21, the District's financial position still requires additional funding to maintain the level of excellence expected by our communities, the Monona Grove School Board may consider another referendum for voter approval.
A. The Monona Grove School Board chose to use $852,000 from the Fund Balance to maintain both our quality teaching & support staff and educational programs. However, to use the Fund Balance is not sustainable or advisable over time.
A. Following is a sample of feedback submitted by MG teachers
“Need to photocopy books because resources are not available for another set.”
“Elementary art consumable materials budget for the ENTIRE year is $510 for a materials-dependent curriculum and to serve 433 students…that is $1.18 per student. A generous PTO has been supplementing the supplies and materials.”
“6th to 12th grade band and 4th to 12th grade orchestra use school instruments that were purchased decades ago and have been under-maintained for years. In the past 20 years instrument maintenance budgets have shrunk to almost nothing.”
“Rooms, including desks, furniture and carpet are showing their age after 17 years and are in need of being replaced at MGHS.”
“Old outdated lab equipment, much of which was moved from the old school. This older machinery demands much more time on instructors to maintain and takes away opportunities to develop new learning activities more reflective of current industrial practices.”
“As education moves toward the digital age, my classroom and instruction are unable to keep pace because we don’t have 1:1 ratio for technology.”
A. The Mill rate related to our operating levy (2015 data) is 9.8¢/thousand, which is comparable to our Dane county neighbors. The median of our comparable districts is 9.6¢/thousand. Stoughton, Middleton & Verona all have higher operating Mill rates. But the total levy also includes past building referendums for the High School and Glacial Drumlin School, pushing our total Mill rate above most of our neighbors for now. Districts with newer schools tend to have the highest mill rates.
District operational funding is not determined by mill rate, but rather by the state revenue limit per student. The operational portion of the mill rate is determined by the difference between the general state aid provided in the state budget and the revenue limit. However the formula is intended that districts with similar mill rates will have similar revenue per student. We are a "property rich" district and receive less state aid per student. For example Waunakee's state aid is 50% of their revenue limit, while ours is only 32%.
A. Yes, but a test score is not the sole measure of effective teaching and learning. Larger class sizes do have a negative impact on student achievement especially for students needing more attention or with special needs or in classes with limited space or teaching stations (labs) or in classes seeking student engagement (foreign language & social studies). It should be noted that we have already increased class sizes. We need to reverse this trend, not continue it. To date we have been able to limit the damage triggered by budget reductions. There are no more easy answers. Worse, many of the choices we have made are merely defer essential expenditures. Deferred expenditures have caught up with us. Facilities maintenance, for example, can cost a lot more tomorrow if we are penny wise and pound foolish today. Where we are today is not good enough, and although we are working hard to improve outcomes, that task will be infinitely harder without adequate resources.
A. Perhaps, if we do not continue to invest in our future. Monona Grove is known for our high quality teaching, small class sizes, robust co-curricular program, and attention to students with special needs, to name a few. These qualities are at risk with our current budget projections. Indeed, we are confident that over time we will see the district become less attractive to current residents, potential residents, and open enrollment families and students. We should expect some impact on property values as well. The following is a real story, but a common theme, on why many families choose to live in the MGSD.
“Before we moved our family to the Madison area, we investigated and toured several schools. We met with principals, talked with teachers, and were given tours of the schools. Our school guides were proud of what was behind every classroom door and never made excuses. It was unique among our experiences and delivered a message that said “This is a community that cares about its schools”. It was the determining factor in our decision to buy a house in the Monona Grove School District. Would we get that same message today or in 5-10 years from now? Today maybe. Tomorrow not so sure. In our judgement a lot rides on this referendum.
A. “Flee” is a strong word, but yes, we are already seeing the situation where some staff, particularly in specialty areas, are taking or being offered jobs elsewhere at salaries that we cannot match within our current budget constraints. Moreover, to fill these vacancies we have to pay more than we have in the past, and this puts added pressure on the budget. This is especially true in technology, science, and math education and some specialty fields. The attraction and retention of all our best teachers in all fields is vitally important to the Board and to our schools, children, families, and community. A related factor is that fewer undergraduates are entering teacher training for a variety of reasons including long-term salary & benefits, alternative career opportunities, ability to repay student loans, and working conditions.
A. The Monona Grove School Board adopted in May 2015 a teacher compensation plan that addresses the need for a competitive, professional salary and benefits coupled with resources that will simultaneously assure frequent performance evaluation, continued and targeted professional development, less reliance on seniority and course credits, and a professional working environment. Our commitment is to attract and retain the best teachers. We will also assure continued professional development of high quality and targeted to the needs of the teacher, students, and our schools.
During our deliberations we discovered that high performance professional organizations (e.g. Mayo Clinic) can achieve excellence through competitive, but not necessarily the highest, salaries and benefits, AND through an environment of a strong, positive professional culture and good working conditions. The MGSD has a strong, positive professional culture, but we need to continue our investment in working conditions that benefit both our teachers and our students -- just as Mayo does to benefit their professionals and patients.
A. The primary investment should be in appropriate class sizes, assuring competitive compensation, time and opportunity to collaborate among colleagues, a strong, positive culture of teaching and learning among teachers and with students. Focus on these principles should assure both effective teaching and learning.
A. Current student enrollment projections submitted to the Board’s Long Range Facilities Planning Committee show some steady but manageable increases in 4K-12 enrollment over the next few years. While these projections require monitoring, they currently do not justify a new school. The data also show that the more immediate problem may be enrollment increases affecting Glacial Drumlin School, a problem that can probably be resolved in the short run without school construction. However, the question is not “building a school” vs. “approving operational funds” because without sufficient operational funds the opening and operation of a new school may prove impracticable now or impossible in a few years.