The Madison Metro School District is considering including two referenda on the November 2020 ballot.
A facilities referendum would include three initiatives that together, would ask voters for over $300 million.
The first question seeks to make renovations to the district’s four main high schools as enrollment is expected to increase over the next twenty years.
James Madison Memorial, for example, is already operating at 90% capacity. Without renovations, the additional 750 students the school expects to add by 2038 will further strain its resources.
The second component would consolidate students from different campuses at one location.
Madison Metro’s Executive Director of Building and Administrative Services Chad Wiese says the current locations limit the opportunities the district can offer its students.
“At Capital East we have students going to school on the third floor of an elementary school, so having access to physical education, their own cafeteria, to having a site that feels like their own school is certainly a barrier,” Wiese notes.
“I think that’s two- or three-fold at our current Capital West location where we have staff and students asking for things like science labs, a culinary space for culinary education, phy-ed space, [and an] outdoor learning space. All those things are certainly barriers we’re seeing at those two sites.”
Currently, Capital High Westside students attend classes at an over-capacity space the district leases in a strip mall across from James Madison Memorial.
A third prong of the facilities referendum would create a new elementary school in the Rimrock area. Wiese says that some students currently ride a bus forty minutes to their elementary school, and that single parents in the area find it difficult to commute to other locations.
“You could certainly make the tangential jump to students having the ability to walk to school and probably attend more often along with certainly more family participation at the site,” Wiese says.
The operating referendum would ask voters to expand student programming in arts, music, science, and athletics that the school board would specify after hearing public input.
Milwaukee Public Schools are holding public meetings that may lead to its first referendum in 20 years next April. The Chief Financial Officer of the Madison Metropolitan School District, Kelly Ruppel says the districts did not coordinate their proposals, but that there is a common reason for each district’s decision.
“What’s happened over the last ten year is that funding model has largely shifted and ultimately the revenue limit was not being used as a main tool for funding public education,” Ruppel says.
“The tools that were being used were not tied to cost of living, they were not tied to inflation, which makes it very difficult for school districts anywhere across the state to keep up with ongoing expenses that increase year after year when that revenue limit doesn’t increase at that same rate.”
Ruppel also says that the old model may be giving way to a new normal.
“It’s starting to be kind of a new way of funding public education, which is ultimately saying if the State won’t provide us with the level of funding needed, then the local community has the right to weigh in,” Ruppel adds.
A new law that took effect in 2018 restricts school districts to two referenda questions on the ballot per year. A report last year from the nonpartisan Wisconsin Policy Forum finds that more school districts are turning to referenda to increase spending.
MMSD is holding a community input session at West High School on Wednesday at 6 PM, and another session at Memorial High School at 6 PM on Thursday.