Janesville25.6°

Whitewater schools seeking referendum

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Kayla Bunge
August 13, 2010

Whitewater School District officials are planning to ask taxpayers in November to support a referendum that would help the district maintain staff and programs for the next five years.


At its next meeting Monday, Aug. 23, the school board is expected to approve a resolution for a referendum that asks voters to allow the district to exceed state revenue caps by $620,000 each year for five years, from 2011-12 to 2015-16.


The referendum will be on the ballot Tuesday, Nov. 2.


District Administrator Suzanne Zentner said the district "desperately" needs to pass the measure to ensure students in Whitewater continue to receive the quality education they and their families have come to expect.


The district is seeking to extend a referendum voters approved four years ago.


The budget picture was bleak after officials cut about $1.5 million from the budget and more than 100 students left the schools in four years.


But taxpayers in November 2006 agreed to allow the district to exceed its revenue limit by $620,000 each year for four years, from the 2007-08 school year to the coming 2010-11 school year. The referendum carried with it an increase in school taxes of $49 per $100,000 of assessed property value.


Jim Strasburg, director of business services, said the district must continue to receive that additional money or it will be forced to make significant cuts.


"It's (the referendum) for the same purposesómaintaining teachers, maintaining programs," he said. "The downside is if we don't get it, then we need to get $620,000 out of the budget, and that means losing teachers, losing the ability to purchase upgraded technology, losing the ability to purchase curricular materials."


Strasburg said the referendumóbecause it is a continuation of an original referendum and its related tax burdenócarries no additional tax impact for district residents.


"That money is already in the levy," he said.


The school board also at its next meeting is expected to approve a resolution for a second referendum question that asks voters to allow the district to issue $2.1 million in general obligation funds to refinance its loan through the State Trust Fund Loan Program.


The loan was taken out in 2006 to pay the district's unfunded liability with the Wisconsin Retirement System. The district has been paying down the loan at a rate of about $182,000 per year, including interest, and it was scheduled to pay off the loan by 2024.


Strasburg said the district wants to refinance the loan and put it under the district's long-term debt to get a lower interest rate, accelerate payments and save taxpayers money.


"It's (the loan) currently under the revenue cap," he said, "but it won't be if it's refinanced and put under our long-term debt."



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