The Wisconsin Dells School District is exploring the idea of a possible referendum in April 2021 to cover operating costs of its buildings.
The possibility of a referendum on the spring 2021 ballot was discussed at the school board’s Nov. 23 meeting. Following discussion, Board Member Jesse Weaver asked to table the item and continue conversations at the school board’s December meeting. No action was taken.
District Administrator Terry Slack said he’s estimated the potential operating referendum at $1.2 million, which could raise the mill rate to about $8.10 per $1,000 of assessed value. He said the district would like to stay “mill rate neutral,” or not exceed $8.28 per $1,000 of assessed value. The $8.28 rate would attribute to asking voters for about $1.6 million.
The school board approved a mill rate of $7.63 per $1,000 of assessed value in its 2021 budget. The mill rate was $8.28 the same year the 2018 referendum passed. Slack said equalized property values in the future could slightly affect how much money the school district could request from voters and the state’s upcoming biennium budget will also have to be considered when building the final number.
If passed, the tax impact would not have effect until Dec. 2021, according to a November 2020 district e-newsletter written by Slack. The school district planned to conduct the operating referendum in conjunction with the presidential and general election in November but it was put on the back burner due to the economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Slack said the potential referendum wouldn’t just cover costs of the construction of the new high school but all its buildings. He also wants to see additional services covered in the referendum, like hiring a social worker with the COVID-19 pandemic affecting many families throughout the district. In previous years, the district had a social worker, but the position was discontinued.
“That’s just one example of those types of future dialogue that we’d have,” Slack said. “This is the introductory level of dialogue I’d like to take tonight.”
Slack said he will talk with administrators after the holidays to get an idea on what services they’d like to address.
The board exploring the idea of an operating referendum at the Dells district comes two years after voters approved a $33.6 million referendum to build the recently-opened $60 million high school. The high school construction was also funded by $27 million in premier resort tax money from Wisconsin Dells and Lake Delton, a $3.2 million land donation from Todd and Shari Nelson and a cash donation from Sally Olson Bracken of $500,000.
Slack said the board has to decide by Jan. 26 if it wants to hold a referendum to meet the spring ballot deadline. While the board has a meeting scheduled for Jan. 25, Slack suggested the board take up the item no later than Jan. 18 to account for winter weather that could possibly hamper the ability to hold a meeting.
The board approved to modify the school calendar for the 2020-21 school year to add two additional three-day weekends for students and staff to take off. One weekend is scheduled for Jan. 29, 2021. The other weekend of Feb. 26, 2021 is contingent upon if there are three or more inclement weather days.
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