Referendum information from superintendent

November 2, 2018 GMT

Editor, Daily Times:

On Tuesday, our community members will have the opportunity to cast their ballots on a school operational referendum question to exceed the revenue limit by an average of $3.3 million per year for each of the next five years. Before you vote on Tuesday, I wanted to share some information with you about the upcoming referendum to help ensure you are able to make an informed decision.

Typically when we think of a referendum, we think our taxes are going up. That is not the case with this referendum. If the Watertown Unified School District referendum passes, the Watertown Board of Education will keep the school portion of your property tax rate flat for each of the next five years. That means the school portion of your property tax rate will stay at $8.98 for each of the next five years -- currently lower than all of our surrounding communities. The board is able to keep the tax rate flat because the WUSD is retiring debt and the city of Watertown will be experiencing growth in business taxes. These circumstances mean that with a successful referendum question, no additional school tax burden will fall on the community of Watertown.

I am proud to be the superintendent of schools in the WUSD. The WUSD offers outstanding opportunities for our students, our families and our community, but unfortunately we are facing budget challenges driven primarily by declining student enrollments. The WUSD is experiencing lower enrollments because we have fewer families with school-aged children living in Watertown. As a result, we have made reductions to our budget. Unfortunately, we cannot make reductions at the rate that is necessary to eliminate our budget deficit and continue to offer the quality of programming that we provide here in Watertown and keep our class sizes at targeted numbers. Additionally, the WUSD has a long history of being fiscally conservative. Over the past 10 years, the WUSD has spent an average of $1,000 less than the state average per student per year. That means that we have lean resources already, and we do not have a lot of additional places in which to make reductions without impacting our service to our students, our families, and our community.

As a result of declining enrollments combined with increasing expenses and historically low-spending, the WUSD is facing a budget deficit of an average of $4 million for each of the next five years. The referendum ballot question will ask to offset that $4 million deficit by an average of $3.3 million a year which means the WUSD will still be making reductions at the rate of an average of $700,000 a year for each of the next five years. What is the ballot question:

Shall the Watertown Unified School District, Jefferson and Dodge Counties, Wisconsin, be authorized to exceed the revenue limit specified in Section 121.91, Wisconsin Statutes by $2,000,000 for the 2018-2019 school year, by $3,500,000 per year for the 2019-2020 and 2020-2021 school years, by $3,700,000 for the 2021-2022 school year and by $3,900,000 for the 2022-2023 school year, for non-recurring purposes consisting of partially funding educational programs, services, and building maintenance.

A vote yes is a vote to support the referendum, and a vote no is a vote not to support the referendum. Please note that while the referendum dollar amount increases, your tax rate will stay flat.

Still have questions and want to make an informed decision? Please email us at referendum@watertown.k12.wi.us or go to our referendum website at https://bit.ly/2Ap3ci4 or call me at 920-262-1460 extension 3229. We welcome your calls and questions.

Cassandra Schug

Superintendent of Schools

Watertown Unified School District