Independence school to go to referendum

A year a $700,000 referendum failed, the Independence School District will try again, asking for more money in a recurring referendum this spring.

A referendum asking for a revenue limit extension annually for three years failed last spring, but the district will be going back to the taxpayers asking for a $900,000 annual increase through a recurring referendum. Board members were initially torn on asking for more money than what was turned down last year, but board president Joe Bragger thinks the board can do more to make taxpayers understand why it is necessary.

“We didn’t do a lot of work (last year),” Bragger said, saying the board members need to do more to inform taxpayers about why the money is needed this time around. 

In a presentation to the board, superintendent Bärry Schmitt explained that the district would struggle financially in the future without going to a referendum. Specifically, he noted not receiving a per pupil aid increase from the state budget has put the district in a difficult position. 

“We can’t levy for any more to counter our expenses unless we pass a referendum to raise our revenue cap higher,” Schmitt said. “That’s the only way to do it.” 

Schmitt said the lack of a per pupil aid increase cost the district $80,000 worth of revenue this year and twice that amount next year. 

“So in two years, it’s $240,000, just because we didn’t get the per pupil increase,” Schmitt said. “It keeps compounding year after year.” 

Board member Deb Bork questioned if taxpayers should blame Governor Tony Evers for the lack of per pupil aid increase. Bragger and Schmitt said that Evers proposed an increase, but was overruled by the state legislature. 

Schmitt presented the board with three options for referendums, with annual prices ranging from $600,000 per year to $900,000 per year. Had they gone lower than $900,000 per year, the district would have to use nearly all of the money saved in its fund balance. 

“What history has shown is that with good management, we’ve built the fund balance over time,” Bragger said, suggesting the district should ask for $900,000 in a recurring referendum. “If we don’t get crazy, we can still maintain somewhat of a fund balance here. If you go less, you’re going to short yourself from the beginning. You’re just playing sportsmanship with the public saying we’re going to go with a low referendum.” 

Board member Jen Rombalski agreed. 

“I like not playing a game with this,” Rombalski said. “Let’s figure out exactly what we need and lets tell the story as to why we need that.”

Bragger said that even with a $900,00 recurring referendum, the impact on taxpayers won’t be drastic. “We’re still significantly lower than other schools.”

Bragger also explained that the district had to make up for the past year in which it had to use money from the fund balance after the 2021 referendum failed. 

“That’s a huge point,” board member Bob Guza said. “The reason we’re going for the nine is because we lost a year with the seven.”

What the board also wanted to make clear is that the purpose of this referendum would be for operating expenses — which include paying staff members competitive wages — programming improvements and facility maintenance. They may still go for another referendum asking for money to toward adding to the building for a child care facility. 

“We’ve got to let people know we have a long vision in place,” Bragger said. 

Paul Franzwa, who will be replacing Schmitt as the superintendent following this school year, added: “We have to build trust.”

Bragger said it’s important for the district to “adapt to the needs of the consumer.”

“We can ignore what’s happening out in the world,” Bragger said. “We can ignore that other schools are adding daycare and building their communities to be an attractive place to work and live and we can say we stick with this and we can find ourselves obsolete.” 

Franzwa said that if the board is able to adequately explain why it is asking for more money, he thinks the referendum should pass. 

“If you’re coming to me and saying ‘we’d like to do a $900,000 recurring referendum and here’s why’ and then you say ‘in five years, if they don’t increase the per pupil increase your mill rate is going to be right back to where it started and here’s why,’ boy, that’s a slam dunk, you’d think,” Franzwa said.

Bragger said the goal for the district is to be the best.

“The long term win is not to be mediocre,” Bragger said. “It’s to have the best scores, the best people.” 

In other matters the board:

• Accepted the retirement of Schmitt as the district’s football coach. 

“I do want to, without getting choked up here, thank the district for all the great times I had coaching football in my career,” Schmitt said.  

Schmitt coached football in the district for 25 years.

• Approved a cooperative agreement with Gilmanton for volleyball. Some board members were concerned about the amount of travel as some practices and matches could have to be in Gilmanton, but Schmitt noted that the district would save on how much it would have to pay for coaches. 


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