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40% of school referendum questions approved on Spring Primary ballots

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40% of school referendum questions approved on Spring Primary ballots

The first election of the year continued a downwards trend of school referenda passing in Wisconsin.

February 21, 2024 2:02 PM CDT

By: Jimmie Kaska

MADISON, Wis. (Civic Media) – In preliminary vote counting, school district referendum questions only succeeded at a 40% rate during the 2024 Spring Primary.

Four of 10 questions passed as seven districts tried for more money to either fund school operations or capital projects.

Two of the four referendum questions passed came from the same district. River Falls sought an additional $3 million per year in a recurring operational referendum to pay for district expenses, and that question passed by more than 600 votes. The district’s second question asked for $28 million for facility updates, which passed by just 59 votes.

In a statement, River Falls School District officials said the district would “be able to avoid reductions in staff services, programs, and resources.” The district said it would also be able to improve school safety with both questions passing.

Another district in northwestern Wisconsin passed a major facilities referendum question. Cumberland will be able to make updates and expand its schools after voters passed a $32.95 million referendum by 261 votes. The district posted on social media that the outcome “is a huge opportunity for students, schools, and community.”

One school district that asked two referendum questions had one pass and one fail. Shiocton passed its operational referendum, which will run for three years and provide $5.2 million over that time. The new referendum will replace an expiring 3-year operational referendum, so there won’t be much of a change in the district’s mill rate.

The other question sought $35.8 million for facilities, including new tech ed, music, and child care space, a new gym, offices, and renovations. That question failed 789 to 601. The district posted a statement on social media saying that they appreciated the approval of the first referendum and would be working towards its building needs at future school board meetings.

The news was not as good for the other districts in the state that sought additional funding. In Menomonie, voters overwhelmingly rejected a $4.2 operational referendum by a nearly 2-to-1 margin. The district said it would seek community input, but also stated that budget cuts will be coming up with the referendum failing.

Voters in southeastern Wisconsin rejected four referendum questions posed by three different school districts. Wilmot Union got the closest to passing, with 45.66% voting yes and 54.34% voting no on a $7.5 million operational referendum.

Waterford, which asked two questions, saw both of its referendums fail. The first question, a $14.16 million operational referendum, had 2,634 no votes and 2,212 yes votes. The second question, for $77.8 million for facilities updates, only garnered 1,883 yes votes to 2,954 no votes. Burlington, which was asking for $11 million in an operational referendum, saw its question rejected 3,432 to 2,724.

The 40% passage rate in the 2024 Spring Primary continues a declining trend in passage of school referenda, as only 55% passed between two elections in 2023, down from an 80% passage rate in 2022.

91 questions are already slated for the ballot in the 2024 Spring Election on April 2. You can see a full list of school referenda from the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction.

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