Community divided on Williams Bay referendum

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Kevin Hoffman
Friday, September 10, 2010
— Whether or not voters choose to approve a schools referendum next week asking to exceed the state’s revenue cap, Williams Bay District Administrator Fred Vorlop believes residents are going to pay.

It’s just a question of whether that’s through higher taxes or a depleted educational system, he says.

Vorlop fears if voters don’t agree to a tax hike, the district might be forced to lay off five or six teachers next year. Administrators are trying to manage a $586,000 deficit, and raising the school tax will help keep the district afloat.

“Some of the opponents seem to believe we don’t need to do that,” Vorlop said. “It’s a tough time to increase (taxes).”

This is the second time in seven years the district is asking voters to exceed the state cap. In 2003, school officials estimated they would need another referendum in four years, but higher enrollment and staff cuts carried the district into 2010.

Tuesday’s referendum seeks to exceed the state limit by $498,000 per year in both 2010-11 and 2011-12. It then would increase to $890,000 in 2012-13 and every year after that.

Williams Bay’s school tax would initially increase to $6.89 per $1,000 of assessed property value. That’s 65 cents more than the current rate and far less than the state average of $9.15.

The problem, Vorlop said, is some taxpayers don’t think it’s necessary. They’ve evaluated the budget differently and believe the district can live within its means.

“I’ve tried to sit with my mouth shut and just listen … then I well-up with frustration so much that I have to say something,” said David Weber, co-chair of the referendum committee and former school board president.

“We got a good piece of business that’s working very well with a good product,” he added. “I’m not trying to be foolish and disregard the cost in today’s market but if we’re going to sacrifice anywhere, it’s not in our schools.”

If the district doesn’t get more revenue, Vorlop estimates a quarter of its 50 teachers will be cut within five years. That doesn’t include potential program and curriculum changes, he says.

Williams Bay consistently exceeds the state’s ACT averages and graduation rates. Vorlop said if the district’s success begins to slide, it could adversely affect property value.

History isn’t on Williams Bay’s side. All six school districts that asked for a permanent revenue cap increase in April failed.

“I hate to see our community get polarized on an issue like this,” Weber said. “We really have, in my judgment, one objective in our life, and that’s to prepare for the future. If we don’t do that with a quality education, then what else are we about?”

Four public meetings were scheduled at Williams Bay High School to discuss the referendum. The final meeting will be at noon Sunday.

Last updated: 3:00 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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