School board discussion (copy)

Baraboo School Board members discuss new business in July. Board members passed a resolution Monday night opposing a proposed state law that would eliminate the Board of Commissioners of Public Lands’ authority to grant loans to municipalities and remove restrictions on how districts spend common school funds.

News Republic file photo

Baraboo School District leaders are worried a proposed state law could jeopardize funding for its library materials.

Senate Bill 713 and its companion Assembly Bill 857, which were introduced by Republican lawmakers last month, would eliminate the Board of Commissioners of Public Lands’ authority to grant loans to municipalities and remove restrictions on how districts spend common school funds.

The Baraboo School Board passed a resolution Monday opposing the measure that says the bills would end the “only dedicated source of school library funding in the state.”

“There’s no other state that has this,” Baraboo High School library media specialist Lawrence Gillick told school board members. “It’s not taxpayer money at all — it’s funding these libraries in this way that has been successful for more than 100 years.”

BCPL loans finance public-purpose projects for schools, towns, villages, technical colleges, Cooperative Education Service Agencies and public library systems across the state. The interest on the loans goes into the common school fund, which is used by school districts to purchase library materials.

The proposed bills would transfer the BCPL’s authority to make loans to the State of Wisconsin Investment Board and nix requirements that schools spend common school fund disbursements on instructional materials, library books, computers and software.

Gillick said he fears the measure could limit students’ access to library resources.

“This bill would strip the protection of the funds and really endanger a love of reading and learning, especially at the lower levels,” he said. “As (students) develop more need for research materials — the nonfiction section, the digital databases — those are all made possible through this fund in every district in our state.”

While Baraboo school leaders fear the bills would negatively impact their libraries, the legislation’s authors claim the changes would double the amount of money schools receive through the common school fund by better managing investments and resources.

State Sen. Duey Stroebel, R-Saukville, told the Senate Committee on Government Operations, Technology and Consumer Protection last month that lifting restrictions on how districts spend common school funds would give them more flexibility to use the additional monies.

“This program competes with lenders in the private sector and undercuts the ability of local banks and credit unions to secure the business of governments,” he said. “The government should not be in the business of banking, and lending institutions across our state are more than capable of working with municipalities to offer the kind of financing they need.”

Despite the assurance of more funding, Gillick said he’s concerned some districts would use the money for capital projects instead of library programming.

“If libraries lost protections to use these funds, the amount of materials available would really be compromised,” he said. “I speak really out of fear for other districts in the state that are licking their chops, hoping to use that money for a new parking lot.”

Board member Doug Mering added that he’s worried the bill could be altered to remove more common school fund protections as it moves through the legislative process.

“Things like this have a tendency to get slid into the state budgets, and I think it’s better to bring a higher level of attention to it now vs. later when it suddenly gets snuck in at the last second,” he said.

Follow Jake Prinsen on Twitter @prinsenjake

Baraboo News Republic Reporter