Milton schools would exceed revenue caps in operational referendum

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Jim Dayton
Wednesday, November 2, 2016

MILTON—Should the Milton School District exceed state-imposed revenue caps for operational expenses over five years?

That is the question in one of two referendums on Tuesday’s ballot.

The operational referendum asks voters for permission to exceed state revenue caps by $2.5 million each year for five years. The additional money would be used for ongoing educational programming, staffing and maintenance expenses.

If approved, the taxing would begin in the 2016-17 school year and add a projected $1.24 to the district’s tax rate. That would bring the tax rate to $8.76 per $1,000 of equalized valuation, according to Milton School District estimates.

The other referendum, if approved, would commit $87 million toward the construction of a new high school and other facility improvements. That financial impact would begin in 2017-18 and add a projected $1.77 to the tax rate.

In August, the school board approved a preliminary 2016-17 budget with a projected deficit of $2 million. Last year, the district lost $511,000 and used its fund balance to cover the loss, which is not a long-term solution, said spokesman Barry Brandt of Vote Yes for Kids, a group advocating for the passage of both referendums.

“I think they’re looking at (projected deficits) and saying the state revenue caps have limited their ability to run their schools,” Brandt said. “They felt they needed to put it on the ballot to have the option to cover their operational needs.”

Brian Kvapil, a spokesman for the referendum study group Citizens Commission on School District Facilities, has been outspoken against the new high school but said he would probably vote in favor of the operational referendum. Still, he is skeptical it will help the district’s financial health.

“The problem I have is we’re giving the money in the operational referendum to the school, but the school district has not been able to show any accountability of putting in a program that works,” Kvapil said. “I’m kind of worried we give it to them, and then they expect it.”

The district’s maintenance program has been ineffective at preventing facility issues over the years, leading to more expensive repairs, Kvapil said. The district cannot blame dwindling state aid for its own financial waste because every other district is dealing with the same problem, he said.

Brandt disagreed and said the district has contained costs well. The additional money from this referendum would help the district eliminate its deficit and continue its current spending levels. Some money would help cover operational costs at the new high school if that referendum were approved, he said.

Kvapil would like to see the money help improve programs for academically advanced students. He also wants the district to hire a consultant who would implement academic quality targets and accountability measures at all levels of administration and staffing.

The goal in hiring the consultant would be to earn the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award for education. That award is given to organizations with high performance quality, and it would demonstrate that the district has eliminated waste, he said.

Brandt and Kvapil agree this referendum question is not a long-term solution. The school board has said it may need to do another referendum after this one would expire.

While Kvapil is concerned operational referendums will become a recurring request of district residents, Brandt said this referendum question is necessary to eliminate the district’s unsustainable budget deficit.

“They still haven’t been able to raise enough revenue. It’s something the district needs to do to maintain quality of education,” Brandt said. “It’s important for taxpayers to consider that quality of education and maintain that going forward. In debt, they wouldn’t be able to do that.”

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