Delavan-Darien School District residents will have the chance to vote on a four-year, $2.8 million operational referendum Nov. 6 after the school board approved the referendum resolution Monday night, just months after a $3.5 million referendum failed in April.
In its current bid, the district is asking for money to reinforce its shrinking fund balance and reduce class sizes, which are expected to grow in the upcoming school year, by hiring more staff.
Interim Superintendent Jill Sorbie told a crowd of about 15 people that the district has gutted its budget for the 2018-19 school year, lowering expenditures by a third. She said teachers are operating on a shoestring budget, and in order to ease of some of the tensions from the slashed budget, Sorbie said the district needs more money.
“We have stripped everything out. Everything,” Sorbie said. “Every teacher is held accountable to every dollar they spend. Our budget is as tight as it can possibly get.”
Some pushed back during the public comment period, asking why the board typically spends more than neighboring districts and asserting they would not support the referendum.
Despite that opposition, board members voted unanimously to put the question on the fall ballot. The discussion focused mostly on the question’s wording, which was a point of contention after the April referendum failed. That question was detailed and all-encompassing, and many voters said it was confusing.
To appease voters, board members voted on a simplified question for November that includes general phrasing about the proposed funding expenses.
The November referendum comes on the heels of the district’s $3.5 million operational referendum in April failed by more than 500 votes. After that failure, school board members voted to lay off 39 teachers and close Darien Elementary School. Though the district is seeking to hire some staff in the current bid, there is no money allocated to reopening Darien Elementary.
District officials decided to float the November referendum after a survey the district conducted this summer showed a vast majority of likely voters backing some kind of referendum in November.
Of the 597 responses, 75 percent of respondents signaled they would back a $2 million operational referendum to reduce class sizes, and 67 percent said they would support augmenting the fund balance by $500,000 a year, which Business Administrator Anthony Klein said would ultimately decrease the district’s borrowing.
On the ballot Nov. 6, voters will be asked: “Shall the School District of Delavan-Darien, Walworth and Rock Counties, Wisconsin be authorized to exceed the revenue limit specified in Section 121.91, Wisconsin Statutes, by $2,800,000 per year for four years, beginning with the 2019-2020 school year and ending with the 2022-2023 school year, for non-recurring purposes consisting of operational costs to reduce classes sizes, and support curriculum and instruction?”