Wisconsin voters on Tuesday approved $736.9 million in borrowing for school construction projects in two dozen school districts.
All told, voters advanced 27 of the 33 referendums on the ballot Tuesday. Those proposals were seeking to borrow more than $1 billion in total for new construction projects in the state. Of that total, only $315.5 million of work was rejected.
With about three-quarters of the referendums up for a vote earning support, voters advanced more work than they had in the previous election cycle, in April 2021, when only 57% of the school referendums on the ballot were passed.
In the single-largest successful question in Tuesday’s election, voters in the Wausau School District soundly approved a $119.8 million plan to make various improvements to district buildings. The referendum passed this time after voters had twice previously — in April 2021 and November 2020 — rejected plans calling for about $150 million worth of spending in the district.
In a statement, the school officials said the successful referendum will help the district make its buildings safer and catch up on various deferred maintenance projects. Even with the approval of the ballot question, the district said local property taxes are projected to decrease.
“We appreciate all the input and feedback we received throughout this process,” according to the district.
Voters have generally shown support for school projects in recent years. November 2020 — amid the pandemic — saw voters approve school referendums at the second-highest rate since 1993. More than $700 million worth of new construction projects were advanced that month.
Even before then, voters were spending school spending at historic rates. Since 2016, voters in about 70% of all Wisconsin school districts have seen a referendum pass, according to an analysis from the Wisconsin Policy Forum. This flurry of school referendums pushed property taxes $1.1 billion higher in December 2020 than they would have been otherwise.
Of course, not all school districts have seen success. The costliest proposal on the ballot Tuesday – a $149.8 million plan to provide a consolidated high school to the West Allis-West Milwaukee School District, failed in a 59% to 41%. vote. Also rejected was a $47.8 million referendum to renovate the Winneconne School District’s elementary, middle and high schools.
Voters separately turned down both the Rosendale-Brandon School District’s $30 million plan to consolidate various district functions and improve school buildings and a $30 million question in the Medford Area School District.
Some high-dollar proposals did meet with success on Tuesday. One — a $77.4 million plan calling for improvements at Nicolet High School in Glendale — was the second-largest successful question in the cycle. Voters in the Fox Point School District separately signed off on a $58.5 million plan to build a new middle school for the district and renovate the existing high school. And voters in the Oconto Falls School District and the Hayward Community School District passed referendums worth nearly $50 million to pay for building improvements and new construction projects..
Voters in the Menominee Indian School District also signed off on a $35 million plan for a new 110,000-square-foot high school. School officials said the high school will have technology improvements, a new field house, additional space for bands and orchestras and other features.
“This was really a referendum about the future of our Menominee children,” said the district superintendent Wendell Waukau. “We are thankful for the individuals and groups who organized to support the effort and rally voters, including the Menominee Indian Tribe of Wisconsin. Everyone worked hard to get the information out about the need and fiscal responsibility of the plan.”Follow @natebeck9