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Superintendent's column: The details behind the operational referendum question

Residents of Ellsworth Community School District recently received an informational flyer regarding the upcoming April 3 operational referendum. This flyer provides a number of specifics about the reasons for the operational referendum, the tax impact associated with the referendum, and voting information.

The flyer also provides a timeline of vision the district has promoted in recent years to address the operational and facility needs of the district following the unsuccessful referendum questions in 2014. The 2014 referendum included one operational question and one facility question to build a new elementary school at the same time. With both of the questions failing, the district began to research public opinion regarding why both failed. We gathered important specifics from the public. Most notably was that the public simply did not like both questions being asked at the same time. Along with this, it was clear that many questions still needed to be answered for the public to support one elementary school.

Out of that research, the district made the commitment to bring back the operational referendum first in 2015 following over a million dollars in cuts in operations in 2014. It was stated that work would continue on the elementary building project but the operational referendum was the first priority. The 2015 operational referendum was successful as the voters approved the referendum for $1.3 million per year for three years. At the same time, the district invested in building and mechanical upgrades to the high school, middle school, and pool to address aging and failing equipment.

The next step was addressing the elementary school by referendum in April 2016. The community supported this plan and the new school is now a reality. With this new building, the district will save on maintenance and operational costs for years to come while offering a quality environment for the students and community.

Now is the final step in the vision outlined in 2014. The 2015 operational referendum approved by voters expires at the end of the 2017-2018 school year With this, the district is bringing forth the operational referendum for $1 million per year for four years with an estimated tax impact of a $7 increase per $100,000 in home value. This follows a tax decrease of $83 per $100,000 in home value for this present school year due to the middle school and senior high school addition from the late 1990's now being paid off.

The 2014 vision was developed to address long-term operational and maintenance needs of the district while keeping tax impact as flat as possible by shaping the projects around other expiring debt. With this plan, the mill rate today is actually lower than the year prior to building the new elementary school due to low interest rates and increasing property values. The district has greatly improved its long-term facility outlook and a building referendum will not be needed again for many years. Still, the operational needs of the district exist due to the revenue limits set by the State of Wisconsin. It is vital to remember that none of the funds approved for the building of the Ellsworth Elementary School can be used for operations.

I encourage all residents to take a close look at the referendum flyer that has been mailed, and all other referendum information on our website at, and to please vote on April 3.