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District planning for upcoming referendum



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June 23, 2010 | 08:50 AM
Williams Bay — "We're a little light on membership tonight," School Superintendent Dr. Fred Vorlop said to nine other people Thursday, June 17, in the high school board room.

Recently, Vorlop publicly announced he will recommend the Williams Bay School Board essentially ask district voters to allow the school district to exceed state revenue limits. That may mean a referendum as early as Sept. 14. If district voters approve a referendum, it likely will mean a tax rate increase to ensure their schools continue providing its current level of services.

But there weren't as many people at the June 17 Referendum Committee meeting as there were earlier this month, when Vorlop suggested concerned district residents establish a committee and take other measures to promote the district's need to make up funds for the estimated $530,000 deficit projected for the past school year.

One of those measures is to find someone — or a couple of people — to help lead the committee as it scrambles to spread the word about the deficit and the importance of the referendum.

"It would be smart to try to get somebody who's well-known in the community," Vorlop said.

Some of the causes of the deficit Vorlop has identified previously include teacher salary and benefit increases and stagnant growth in enrollment.

So far, the deficit has been talked about in estimates and projections. However, it appears more concrete numbers will be released soon.

According to Vorlop, the deficit amount may be pinned down by July 1.

The School Board is expected to hold a special meeting July 7 to discuss a proposed referendum. Then, the board is expected to act on the referendum issue at its July 12 meeting.

Previously, Vorlop released some examples of how covering the deficit may impact district residents.

One crucial factor will be how much the School Board asks for in the proposed referendum.

For example, if the board decided on an $800,000 referendum, the tax rate would be about $7.16 per $1,000 of assessed property value. For a $250,000 home, that would result in about a $1,790 annual tax bill just for the district. To raise $950,000 more per year, the tax rate would be approximately $7.29.

That would be about a $1,822.50 annual tax bill. For $1.2 million per year, the tax rate would be approximately $7.55, which would be $1,887.50 annual tax bill for a $250,000 home.

Currently, the school district tax rate is $6.24 per $1,000 of assessed property value, which is an annual tax bill of about $1,560 for a $250,000 home.

"My hope would be that we might do a little better than those numbers," Vorlop said.

School Board member Jim Pfeil said there will be tough decisions to make regardless of the outcome of the referendum.

"From a board perspective, nobody wants to raise taxes. … Nobody wants to be in this position."

Preparations

The district parents and officials at the June 17 meeting discussed the methods employed by the last Referendum Committee.

According to district parent Lynne Landgraf, who served as the "PR/media" person on that committee, members took to the telephones and writing letters to the editor to local newspapers.

There were yard signs and a telephone campaign.

"Everybody only had to call like 10 people," she said.

Committee members also discussed the importance of working from one set of facts and eliminating side discussions.

"If we can answer people's questions, make the case (to approve the referendum), we at least stand a chance," Vorlop said. "That's really what the school has to do, put out factual information."

While they reviewed what questions and answers were deemed important for the 2003 referendum, they agreed one aspect that may be an issue — if the board goes to referendum this fall — would be the new athletic field.

At the meeting earlier this month in the high school's lecture center, several district residents discussed how they believed spending money on two athletic fields and about $1.4 million to improve the football and softball fields added to the deficit.

However, Vorlop said those expenditures didn't affect current operating funds.

"If we had not gone through with that project, it wouldn't change where we are today," Vorlop said. "I'd still be standing here asking for money, essentially."

He said the district borrowed about $500,000.

Roughly $250,000 came from private contributions. The softball field was paid for by service funds originating from a separate account than the one from which the operating funds are — but the football field was paid for with operating funds.

That likely will be a topic the recently created Referendum Committee would address. Its members also may hit the local events to spread the word.

But there also will be community meetings and other opportunities to ask questions about the situation in public.

Vorlop said if the board goes to referendum Sept. 14, it presents the committee with a "different challenge."

According to Vorlop, with the committee likely having to work during the summer, it's a time in which people typically "disappear." If they are around, they may not be paying too much attention to the deficit situation.

That could make it tough to get people's attention, especially by setting meetings during the last three weeks before the proposed referendum election.

Vorlop said there may be enough time to mount a referendum campaign, but something's missing.

"I don't think we're behind the 8-ball, but I think we need more people than we have here tonight," he said.

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