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2024 School Support Referendum

What is the proposed referendum?

The proposed referendum will seek an increase in revenue limits for Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS). More specifically, the referendum will ask voters for a four-year phased-in revenue limit increase for a total of $252 million. The referendum question will be on the April 2, 2024 ballot. 

 

What is the revenue limit?

In 1993, the Wisconsin legislature instituted a limit on the revenue a district is entitled to receive each year from general state aid and local tax levies. The revenue limit for a district indicates the maximum amount a district can receive through the combination of general state aid and local tax levy. The revenue limit caps the district's ability to fill the gap in needed funding through additional tax levy. A school district can exceed the revenue limit through a voter-approved referendum.  

 

Why is this referendum necessary and why pursue this now?

School districts are limited by the state as to how much they can spend. Since 2009, Wisconsin public school funding has not kept pace with inflation. For this reason, public schools across the state are facing budget challenges.  

Milwaukee Public Schools would have more than $210 million in additional support each year if state funding had kept pace with inflation. The only alternative to decreasing spending is a voter-approved referendum. In the last 25 years, more than 400 of the state’s 421 school districts have sought and passed a referendum to do just that. Most districts have gone to referendum more than one time.  

 

When was the last time MPS sought a referendum?

The last time MPS had a referendum was 2020. Within the past two decades, many other districts in the area and the state have sought and received revenue limit increases through the passage of a referendum. Many districts have pursued a referendum more than one time in the absence of adequate state funding.  

 

How did MPS use the funds it received in the last referendum?  

We are grateful that in spring of 2020 the taxpayers approved a referendum for MPS of $87 million which was phased in over 4 years. This current year we received $3 million extra in funding, the last year of the phase in. Unfortunately, due to non-regular increases in the revenue limit our funding has actually decreased since the beginning of that referendum. We have kept our commitment to budget those dollars to support the following:

  •     Early childhood education and reduced class sizes
  •     Attracting and retaining certified educators
  •     Professional support staff such as psychologists, social workers, school counselors
  •     Meeting educational standards for programming in library, art, music, and physical education
  •     Expanding access to advanced educational programming opportunities
  •     Comprehensive career and technical education

 

In 2022, during a time when Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) funds were available, more school districts than ever in Wisconsin went out for referenda and succeeded. A total of 166 referendum requests were placed on ballots, with 133 of those passed successfully. The lack of funding is not just an MPS situation but exists statewide.

 

How did the referendum get approved? What process was implemented to get a referendum placed on the ballot?

State law allows school boards to seek approval for a referendum for two purposes: to exceed the state-imposed revenue limit and to borrow money for facilities. On December 21, 2023, the Milwaukee Board of School Directors adopted Resolution 2324R-009 which directed MPS administration to gather information for a possible referendum related to budget needs. Public listening sessions on these important issues were held in December virtually and in person.

A community survey was also created and shared with MPS families, staff, and members of the community. It received more than 4,700 responses, which showed overwhelming support to increase funding to MPS rather than cut student services.  

On January 11, 2024, at a Special Meeting, the Milwaukee Board of School Directors approved a resolution to seek the referendum to increase revenue limits for MPS.

 

What type of support does the referendum have from the community?

The results of a survey of more than 4,700 respondents yielded the following results regarding a referendum on the ballot in April 2024:

70% of respondents were in favor of a referendum
16% of respondents said they might be in favor of a referendum
14% of respondents said they would not support a referendum  

Survey respondents represented three groups:

49% of respondents identified as a parent or guardian of a current MPS student
35% of respondents identified as current MPS staff
The remaining respondents were community members or identified as other

 

What will the referendum cost and how will it affect me?

Students will benefit from an additional $252 million in school funding over four years from this referendum, but the estimated property tax impact on residents will be much lower—less than $130 million.

The total estimated tax impact to homeowners will be $216 for each $100,000 of property value in the first year of the referendum. Taxes will remain flat in future years.  

 

If the revenue increase gets phased in over four years, will my property taxes continue to go up each year due to this referendum?

No. There should be only a one-time increase in property taxes if the referendum passes. As an example, if you own a home with an assessed value of $100,000, the estimated increase in property taxes will be $216 in the first year if the referendum is passed by voters. No additional increases will be associated with the referendum based on the design of the phase-in. 

Because the revenue limit is a combination of local property taxes and state aid, MPS will receive additional state aid to offset the revenue increases in years two through four. The goal is to maximize the resources available to children while minimizing the impact on property owners.  

 

What if the referendum fails?

Efforts will continue to minimize the effects of financial cuts. But students will be provided far fewer educational opportunities than their peers in other districts. Moreover, much more will be expected of MPS teachers and staff than of those in similar positions in other districts. This will result in a greater migration of outstanding Milwaukee Public Schools educators to other Wisconsin school districts.

Other programs, including college and career advancement, could be put in jeopardy, and further reductions in staffing and programming may be necessary.

 

What has MPS been doing to reduce costs now?

For every dollar MPS receives, 94 cents is spent in the classroom. Over the past 20 years, the district has cut costs by millions of dollars. This includes reductions to Central Services staff in 2019 to ensure that district funds are going to students as much as possible.  

Just like a business, MPS has also worked to maximize returns on the investment that taxpayers have made in the schools. However, unlike a business that can get rid of any product or service that is not profitable, the school district cannot eliminate basic educational offerings nor turn away any of the students it serves.

 

How will this funding be spent? Is this a referendum to increase wages of teachers and administrators?

If passed, the funding would address a budget shortfall that is the result of years of underfunding by the state of Wisconsin. The funds will allow the district to avoid cuts to staff and help to maintain programs such as career and technical education programs, art, music, physical education, and language programs.

All budget allocations are approved by the elected members of the Milwaukee Board of School Directors after public input.

 

How does MPS assure accountability and transparency with funding and what does MPS do to prevent overspending?  

Milwaukee Public Schools believes that transparency and accountability are very important, and this is demonstrated through our annual audit and the Comprehensive Annual Financial Report that is published with the auditor’s statement. Milwaukee Public Schools has been awarded the Certificate of Achievement for Excellence in Financial Reporting each year from the Government Finance Officers Association.  

MPS presents its proposed budget every year near the end of April. The proposed budget includes line-by-line budget reporting. Meetings of the Milwaukee Board of School Directors allow for public input, amendments, and a final approved budget.  

Wisconsin Policy Forum reviews and reports on MPS’s budget each year and provides an objective analysis for the public.  

Accountability can be measured through credit ratings. The City of Milwaukee has authority under Chapters 67 and 119 of Wisconsin Statutes to issue municipal obligations for specific school purposes. All issuance of debt, whether short term or long term, is approved by the Milwaukee Board of School Directors. The City of Milwaukee continues to maintain high bond ratings from three major agencies. This, along with favorable reviews of the district's financial management, allows for borrowing at competitive rates that minimize costs.  

 

How will the referendum be worded on the ballot?

The following will be used on the April 2, 2024 ballot: 

"Shall the Milwaukee Public Schools, Milwaukee and Washington Counties, Wisconsin be authorized to exceed the revenue limit specified in Section 121.91, Wisconsin Statutes, by $140 million for the 2024-2025 school year; by an additional $51 million for the 2025-2026 school year; by an additional $47 million for the 2026-2027 school year; and by an additional $14 million (for a total of $252 million) for the 2027-2028 school year and thereafter, for the recurring purposes of sustaining educational programming, including offering career and technical education programs, attracting and retaining certified educators, and further improving art, music, physical education and language programs?” 

 

Why is Washington County listed on the ballot question?

Milwaukee and Washington Counties are listed in the ballot question because the City of Milwaukee has parcels of land in both counties that pay taxes on behalf of Milwaukee Public Schools. We will note that the City of Milwaukee also has parcels of land in Waukesha County, but those parcels do not pay taxes on behalf of Milwaukee Public Schools.

Only one parcel of land in Washington County is considered part of the City of Milwaukee—a little triangle in the northwest corner of the city—and the parcel belongs to Waste Management. There are no city residences in Washington County, but we must list Washington County on the ballot for clarity since some taxes will be levied on a property in that county on behalf of Milwaukee Public Schools.

 

When, where, and how do I vote?

Wisconsin law requires every qualified voter to maintain a current voter registration before voting in an election. Visit the City of Milwaukee Election Commission webpage to learn about voter registration and find other information.

How to Register to Vote

Early Voting

Where Do I Vote?

For more information, visit the State of Wisconsin Elections Commission at My Vote Wisconsin.

 

Who may I contact for more information?

Please feel free to share any additional feedback and questions with us at budget25@milwaukee.k12.wi.us

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