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Republican bills target school referendums (UPDATE)

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Republican lawmakers who say school districts ask taxpayers for too much additional money are seeking to rein in school referendums with a package of bills circulated this week.

But critics say the measures will make it hard for schools to keep up with the rising costs of educating students and diminish local control, the Wisconsin State Journal reports (http://bit.ly/2nDElPw ).

The bills were being circulated for additional co-sponsors days before voters are to weigh in on more than a half a billion dollars’ worth of projects statewide, which Sen. Duey Stroebel, R-Saukville, said prompted him to sponsor five of the six bills.

“I believe there is more harm being done to our tax climate via school referendum than anyone realizes,” Stroebel told the State Journal. “If everything passed, next year property taxes in Wisconsin would be $63 million higher just from operating (referendums) this election.”

Among the bills are proposals that would prevent districts from asking voters to raise taxes permanently and cause districts to lose state funding if they bring in more money through property taxes than is allowed by state-imposed revenue limits.

But school administrators and advocates say his proposals take away local districts’ control and ignore the fact that voters have been increasingly supportive of school-district referendums in recent years.

“Through tight budgets and changing political winds, Wisconsinites have consistently voted to raise their own taxes to support their local public schools,” Department of Public Instruction Superintendent Tony Evers told the State Journal.

One proposal would prevent school boards from asking voters for approval for spending and building projects at all times except general elections held in the spring and fall. Others would require school boards to vote on seeking referendums at regular meetings and require that votes on referendums to issue debt occur only at annual meetings.

Another would require school boards to include the cost of debt and interest in the referendum amounts presented to voters. Yet another would provide 50 percent matching state funds for districts that set aside money they receive under their revenue limits in a fund for maintenance and construction. If a district sought a referendum within 10 years of using the matching money, the money would be reimbursed to the state through a reduction in the district’s state aid.

Kim Kaukl, executive director of the Wisconsin Rural Schools Alliance, said in a statement the bills would be “damaging” to public education, especially in rural areas still hurting from reductions in state aid.

“There is not a single author from rural Wisconsin, where these bills will have the most serious impact,” she said.

Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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