Milton School District voters might think they’ve seen the district’s proposed operational referendum before.

They have. It’s the same amount—$2.5 million per year—and same time frame—five years—as the previous operational referendum that expires in June 2021.

The new referendum on the Nov. 3 ballot states it is “for nonrecurring purposes consisting of ongoing educational programming, staffing and maintenance expenses.”

“It isn’t additional revenue compared to what we have in place right now because it is replacing an operating referendum that would expire before this one would kick in,” said Superintendent Rich Dahman.

The current $2.5 million operational referendum was approved by 52.4% of voters in 2016. The money it provides covers the district through the 2020-21 school year.

“We felt that the five-year time frame allows us some stability and the ability to make some plans moving forward without tying the taxpayers into something that is permanent,” Dahman said.

The school board and finance committee debated the referendum amount and length of time, he said.

“Where we landed: maintaining what’s in place right now once it expires so that it doesn’t have a positive or negative impact on what taxpayers are used to right now,” Dahman said.

Thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, Dahman said, “We are hearing indicators from the state that it’s unlikely there will be increases in funding from the state over the next couple of years for sure.

“So it (the new referendum) is in part a hedge to address that, but it also is to allow us to continue to keep our effective class sizes and programs that we have in place right now.”

The referendum money will be used to “supplement our available operating expenses,” including staffing and maintenance, Dahman said.

School board President Joe Martin said even if the staff stays the same size, costs for things such as health care and salaries increase.

“We certainly don’t pay people the exact same wage that we paid them five years ago,” he said.

When asked what he would say to voters who object to an ongoing operational referendum, Martin said, “Putting finite time frames out there gives us time to re-evaluate that time, and we’ll know more what happens to our funding limits from the state, etc.”

If voters approve it Nov. 3, the operational referendum would take effect in July 2021.

If it fails, it can be brought back to voters in April.

“We would need to start planning over the winter where we would make those $2.5 million in reductions for the upcoming year,” Dahman said. “It’s important for us to have a balanced budget, so if our revenue is decreased by $2.5 million, we would need to reduce our budgeted expenditures by that same amount.”

He said a committee of district stakeholders, including residents, would be formed to look at options to cut costs.

The $2.5 million is about 5% to 6% of the district’s overall budget.

Staffing costs consume a little more than 80% of the budget, so Dahman said a significant percentage of reductions would have to come in staffing, which would lead to larger class sizes, fewer course offerings at the high school and fewer opportunities for students.