WALWORTH — The Big Foot High School referendum was approved 1,038 to 702 , just one year after residents rejected a similar referendum by 16 votes.
The referendum asked residents to approve an increased revenue limit for the next five years.
In January, School Board President Ed Hayden said the referendum asked for a levy increase that is less than the one approved in 1999 to fund the building expansion.
“The $990,000 we hope to levy in each of the next five years is less than the $1.2 million we have levied for the past 15 years,” he said. “(Tax) rates will remain about the same if the referendum is approved.”
On election night, District Administrator Dorothy Kaufmann said she was “excited and very appreciative.”
She credits the increased voter support to the district’s outreach.
“We met with a lot more people, we talked to a lot more people,” Kaufmann said.
“We were still answering questions (the night before the election).”
The district sent out different mailings to residents and hosted multiple referendum sessions at the school.
“People had more opportunities to learn about the referendum and to understand it,” Kaufmann said.
Now, Kaufmann said, the board will ensure a plan is in place that maintains Big Foot’s programming and standards.
According to projected numbers from Robert W. Baird & Co, financial advisers for the school, the district will operate with a surplus for the first two years now that the referendum has passed.
In January, after the board decided on the final language for the ballot question, Kaufmann said the referendum had to pass for the district to survive.
“If this referendum doesn’t pass, we haven’t talked about our options yet at the board,” she said. “It (would) impact kids’ educational opportunities. We’d have to cut from the budget, and we’d try to cut from nonessential areas, but it’s going to impact the kids.”
Kaufmann said during that interview that it’s impossible to tell if the deficit will continue after the referendum ends.
If the referendum hadn’t passed, the tax rate for the district would have decreased by 51 cents per $1,000 of property value.
The referendum specifically states that the additional tax revenue will be spent in four areas: hiring new teachers, technology upgrades, an updated auditorium and maintenance.
The state has increased the number of credits students need in science and math to graduate from high school, and Big Foot plans to hire more teachers to take on the additional workload.
Hayden said the district has a four-year plan to spread the cost of the technology upgrades including putting Smart Boards in classrooms and improving student access to computers.
When deciding on the referendum question for the April 2013 ballot, school board members had discussed improving the school’s auditorium, which Hayden said hasn’t been renovated since it was built in the 1950s.
Hayden said the district wants to repair the roof and athletic fields and install energy efficient lighting throughout the school.
A history of referenda
On April 2, 2013, Big Foot district voters voted down a recurring referendum by 16 votes.
The referendum asked if taxpayers wanted to exceed the state imposed revenue limit by $300,000 in 2012-13 and $650,000 for the following years.
With such a small spread in the votes, board members said in April 2013 that they planned to put a referendum on the next ballot.
“I still feel there’s a very large misconception of school finance,” former School Board President Ann Zubow said at the time. “I don’t think that our populace understands school finance ... they think that we are a property-rich, affluent district, and that we are rolling in the dough.”
Zubow said she spoke with some voters who thought the increased revenue would pay faculty and staff more.
“That’s the furthest thing from the truth,” she said. “I don’t know how to make it any more clear.”
Principal Mike Hinske said the board and those who support the referendum need to find ways to inform more voters.
“We held those information sessions,” he said. “They were not well-attended. I think the question is, how do you get people in to be able to see it?”
Hinske said that he talked to a few parents about the issue, and the parents saw it was necessary to continue funding the school.
“In a 10 minute (discussion, they) said, this is a no-brainer,” he said. “I used the graphs that show the spike (in taxation) and the mill rate coming down.”
Hayden, then vice president, said with more time to plan, the Friends of Big Foot High School support group reached out to more voters.
“I’d like to start by recognizing our friends committee for the efforts that they made trying to help us with this,” he said.