Operating Referendum Question on the April 2023 Ballot

As school districts across Wisconsin pursue or consider adding operational referendums to their upcoming ballots, Shorewood School District residents will vote April 4 on a proposed, nonrecurring referendum question. An approved referendum would provide the District with an additional $5.5 million in each of the next five years to cover key funding needs, including preserving student programs and services, and retaining and attracting talented staff.
Facing financial shortfalls
In Wisconsin, all school districts operate under a revenue limit that caps the amount of money they can receive through state aid and local property taxes. Districts are turning to referendums for a confluence of reasons, including inflation trends and declining state funding. In fact, there are 52 school referendums on the ballot this April in Wisconsin and 82% of Wisconsin school districts have pursued an operating referendum since 1992.  
“Increasing inflation has outpaced revenue for several years,” says Interim Superintendent JoAnn Sternke. “Together with inflation, years of stagnant or declining state funding per pupil have placed the Shorewood School District’s exceptional student programs in jeopardy.” Wisconsin districts are entering the second year of zero-dollar increases to perpupil funding from the state. The Shorewood School District’s per-pupil revenue caps have lagged inflation by about $3,200 per student since 2009. This equates to $5.5 million in lost revenue this year alone.
“The bottom line is that the District’s revenue will not be enough to meet the increasing expenses of advancing our mission and achieving equity, growth and excellence for all,” Sternke says.
This funding is critical to supporting our students, our staff, our community services, and our financial position for future years. Our schools are at the heart of our community and our tradition of excellence depends on an operating referendum to preserve the programs and services that define Shorewood.
In preparing the 2022-23 budget, the District reduced expenditures by over $1 million to prioritize staff compensation and benefits while absorbing other cost increases. Although District leaders and the Shorewood School Board have controlled spending, the budget gap is widening.
“An estimated $25 million in reductions will be needed to balance the budget over the next five years if the referendum does not pass,” says Heather Heaviland, the District’s director of business services.
What's at stake?
•    Maintaining our high-quality student experience
•    Retaining and attracting top-notch staff
•    Building required financial reserves
•    Continuing to host recreational and enrichment programs
Impact on property owners
The total levy is projected to increase by $2.4 million in 2023-24 if the referendum is approved. If property values remain the same, the property tax impact of the referendum is estimated to be $123 per $100,000 of assessed property value.
Property taxpayers will not absorb the full $5.5 million. Instead, other levy amounts will likely compensate for the general operating fund levy increase.
The District will hold multiple community information sessions prior to the spring election. District leaders will share information about the referendum and explain the ongoing impact of state funding shortfalls, inflation and a tight labor market — among other variables — on the Shorewood School District and many other Wisconsin schools.
For more information and details about the dates, times and locations of community information sessions, please visit https://www.shorewood.k12.wi.us/apps/pages/referendum
[Pictured: Longtime Atwater Elementary 5K teacher Joleen Barry, left, helps 5K student Margot Requejo with an art project.]