By Adam Hocking
MARSHFIELD — No official vote was taken, but all Marshfield School Board members endorsed going to referendum in November, and a majority of board members wished to ask voters for $3 million per year for four years. The referendum funds would be used to help finance district operations.
A final vote approving the length and amount of the referendum should come in early August, said the district’s Director of Business Services Pat Saucerman.
Currently, the district’s operations are supported by a referendum supplying $2.5 million annually, but those funds will expire at the end of next school year. The district has consistently gone to referendum to compensate for the fact that when revenue caps were instituted in the mid-90s, Marshfield was locked in to a lower tax rate than most surrounding districts. Referendums allow the district to raise the revenue cap if voters approve the action.
“We have cut all the things we can. … We’ve tried to do it (make cuts) to things that won’t harm kids. We’re out of those options. We need this extra money so we can provide a good education for all of our students,” board member Amber Leifheit said.
Three options were discussed by the board on Wednesday night. The favorite option — supported by board members Marlene Stueland, Amber Leifheit, Frances Bohon, Mark Konrardy, and Dale Yakaites — would ask voters for $3 million per year for four years. Board member Mary Carney advocated for a $2.5 million per year option over four years, and board member Dorothy Chaney favored asking for $2.5 million in the first year and $3 million per year over the following three years.
Chaney voiced concern that $3 million for four years may be more than the community is comfortable with.
“In terms of a palatable proposal to the community, that’s what I’m thinking of. Because, yes, we are going to severely hurt if we just get $2.5 (million in the first year of the new referendum) instead of the $3 (million), … but we’re going to be hemorrhaging if we go for $3 (million all four years), and we don’t get it,” Chaney said.
The $3 million figure was chosen because it represents close to the deficit that Saucerman projects for the district in 2017-2018, which would be the first year without the $2.5 million contribution of the current referendum. Going from $2.5 million to $3 million, Saucerman said, made sense given rising costs to the district “in a number of budget categories.”
Saucerman said for a $100,000 home, raising the current $2.5 million referendum to $3 million per year would mean a $25 per year increase in that home’s tax bill. If the referendum were to fail in addition to the $2.5 million current referendum expiring, the owner of a $100,000 home would see their tax bill drop by $125 per year, Saucerman said.
The board favored a four-year duration for the referendum so that a vote to approve a possible 2020 referendum would, like 2016, also fall on the same ballot as the presidential election, encouraging high voter turnout.
The potential stakes
The board also discussed but did not take action to officially approve a list of cuts that are proposed should the referendum fail. That list, put together through a lengthy collaborative process between district administration and staff, would cut nearly $3.2 million worth of courses, positions, benefits, and athletics from the district’s current offerings.
Included on the cut list are reduced teacher assistant hours, elimination of regular education assistant positions, reductions to the athletics and technology budgets, elimination of the French foreign language program, cutting driver’s education, replacement of middle school athletics with intramural sports, and cutting the high school’s athletics program with the lowest enrollment.
“We believe firmly that all that you see on that list is needed by the school system. It’s not fluff. It’s not added, additional items that we enjoy having but can do without. There are a lot of very important programs that are in that list that are going to go by the wayside potentially if in fact … the referendum is not successful,” Saucerman said.
Board action on the cut list may come in September, Saucerman said.