MMSD staff continues to probe community about property tax increases

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MADISON (WKOW) — Madison Metropolitan School District staff are spending hours at community input meetings explaining why they’re asking taxpayers to fund operational and facility costs over the next several years.

On Wednesday, community members met at West High School to hear about the two referenda that the district is considering. The facilities referendum, which right now totals about $315 million, would fund upgrades and expansions to existing schools like West. They’re also considering building a new elementary school.

The other referendum totals $38 million over four years and would cover operating costs for the district.

Together, they could total nearly $350 million if they remain unchanged when they end up on the ballot.

An average home in Madison costs about $295,000. Through the operating referendum, this would add about $198 to a property tax bill. The facilities referendum would add about $202.

Asking taxpayers for permission to increase their property taxes is becoming more and more common across the state. This is because less and less funding is coming from legislators.

“The state funding formula is a little less predictable than it’s been before,” said Chad Wiese, the executive director for building and administrative services. “The state’s ability to fund public schools at two-thirds is not even close to true here in Madison.”

According to the Wisconsin Policy Forum, more than 3,100 of these referenda have gone before voters in the state since the 1993/1994 school year.

Data shows rural districts have a tendency to put them on ballots more often. Madison Metro School District’s Chief Financial Officer tells 27 News that urban districts are now using them more often.

“We’re all struggling with the same concept,” said Kelly Ruppel.

In rural districts, she said the challenge is high costs and a shrinking tax base. In urban districts like Madison, there are challenges related to the complexity of the student base.

That includes higher numbers of English language learners or special education students who require more services.

“But the state doesn’t differentiate our funding based on the needs of our students,” she said. “Everybody gets equal amounts.”

These referendums are subject to change. The community input will be crucial for this and the board of education can decide whether it wants to put one or both on the ballot.

All those decisions will be made between March and May of 2020.

Sara Maslar-Donar

Sara Maslar-Donar

Reporter, WKOW 27 News

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