Editorial: Funding options limited for school districts

6:17 PM, Apr. 6, 2013  |  Comments
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The big question for the Pulaski School District is "what now?" And the most likely answer will be: More referendums.

The school district has sought money for capital projects and maintenance in the last two elections.

In November, Pulaski School District voters soundly defeated a $33 million referendum to fund technology, maintenance/remodeling and a new pool.

After the defeat, the School Board broke up the $33 million question into four votes on technology ($650,000 a year for next seven years), maintenance ($4.37 million), remodeling ($9.13 million) and a community pool ($7.9 million). On Tuesday, only one of the questions passed - maintenance - and by the slim margin of seven votes. (That result must still survive the counting of absentee ballots and a likely recount.)

But what's happening in Pulaski is not unusual, according to our Gannett Wisconsin Media report. In Wisconsin, 10 school maintenance referendums were held Tuesday; voters supported half of them. Twenty other districts asked voters to OK extra money for remodeling or new construction; eight passed.

Our A1 story today highlights the challenges school districts face in finding funds for maintenance, much less capital projects, and that referendums are the most likely avenue for securing financial backing since the state imposed revenue limits and then reduced state money.

School districts over the years have put a hold on maintenance, and now those projects, and bills, are coming due. That makes for costlier referendums and can lead to safety issues at these schools

The Pulaski School District faces another obstacle - geography. Tuesday's vote highlighted the difference of opinion between those who live in the village and those outside of it.

Village of Pulaski voters backed all four questions.

Village of Hobart voters opposed all four as did voters in the towns of Pittsfield, Little Suamico, Angelica, and Maple Grove. Of the four questions, the one on a new pool, lost by the most votes - 1,751 - according to unofficial results.

With only one of four questions passing, schools Superintendent Mel Lightner is at the "now what" moment.

What chance is there for a capital project like a new pool or remodeling when a question on maintenance needs passes by only seven votes? In lieu of any other funding source, like a community campaign or a deep-pocketed alumni or an increase in state funds, it appears as if referendums will be the chief funding option.

A referendum gives voters a say in their taxes, but anti-tax-increase forces that seem to galvanize opposition are more difficult to overcome than the pro-referendum people. It's a challenge to tell voters they need to back a tax increase when many may not benefit from the changes, such as childless couples. Also, it's just difficult in general to get people to support raising taxes.

Meanwhile, Lightner and the Pulaski School Board need to come up with another plan, or trot out a referendum every election cycle. Until someone comes up with a different idea, that may be the case not only for Pulaski, but for all school districts.

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If you've ever answered "Who has the ball?" with "It's halftime," you might recognize The Airhead. Check out the characters in our cartoon gallery of oddball fans.

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