School Board President Jennifer Bushman. (Contributed)

Column: Referendum success essential to meet critical needs in school district

On Tuesday, April 2, 2024, Stevens Point Area Public School District residents will vote on a proposed operational referendum question. If approved, this referendum will ensure the district is adequately funded and allow us to continue to provide the highest quality education to our students.

The state of Wisconsin has an outdated education funding formula that has led school districts across the state, including SPAPSD, to face significant funding challenges. All Wisconsin schools operate under a state-imposed revenue limit that restricts the amount of money they can receive through state general aid and local property taxes. SPAPSD’s revenue limit ranks in the bottom third of all Wisconsin districts.

At the same time, our costs are rapidly increasing, as our students’ needs, especially in the areas of mental health and special education are increasing.

Providing services to meet the needs of our students is not only a top priority for the district, it’s also mandated by the state. However, the district does not receive adequate state funding to provide these required services. Currently, special education needs alone represent about $11 million of our budget, only a fraction of which is provided by the state.

Additionally, we are seeing increased operational costs related to transportation, utilities, and more due to the effects of inflation.

The operational referendum on the ballot on April 2, if approved, would allow our district to avoid cutting programs and services for our students. It would help sustain our commitment to key priorities, including retaining high-quality teachers and staff, delivering robust academic programs, offering essential behavior and mental health supports, re-establishing a healthy fund balance, funding our 10-year facility maintenance plan, and ensuring the maintenance of technology and infrastructure for 21st-century learning.

Without an operational referendum, the future of SPAPSD would include increased class sizes and reduced educational and co-curricular opportunities.

In year one, the estimated property tax impact would be $0.13 per $1,000. A homeowner with a home worth $100,000 would see an increase of $44 annually. In year two, the estimated property tax impact would be an additional 13 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value, or $47 per year for the owner of a home worth $100,000, recurring thereafter.

Notably, even after year two, SPAPSD will maintain a mill rate lower than the state average and most neighboring school districts. We are committed to fiscal responsibility, and the board would not be proposing this referendum if it were not necessary.

We would like to invite all SPAPSD area residents to attend one of our community information meetings to learn more about the upcoming referendum vote. The meetings are scheduled for February 7 and March 13 at 6 p.m. in the SPASH Auditorium.

To learn more and browse answers to frequently asked questions, please visit www.pointschools.net/referendum.

Jennifer Bushman is the president of the Stevens Point Area Public School District Board of Education.