Milton School District voters may have a feeling of déjà vu with the November operational referendum.
That’s because it’s the same amount ($2.5 million per year) and same time frame (five years) as the prior operational referendum that expires June 2021.
The 2020 operational referendum states it is “for non-recurring purposes consisting of ongoing educational programming, staffing and maintenance expenses.”
“It isn’t additional revenue compared to what we have in place right now because it is replacing an operating referendum that would expire before this one would kick in,” said Superintendent Rich Dahman.
The $2.5 million operational referendum approved by Milton School District voters (52.4%) in 2016 ends with the end of the 2020-21 school year.
“We felt that the five-year timeframe allows us some stability and the ability to make some plans moving forward without tying the taxpayers into something that is permanent,” Dahman said.
The school board and finance committee debated the referendum amount and length of time, he said.
“Where we landed: maintaining what’s in place right now once it expires, so that it doesn’t have a positive or negative impact on what taxpayers are used to right now,” Dahman said.
Especially with the COVID-19 pandemic, Dahman said, “We are hearing indicators from the state that it’s unlikely there will be increases in funding from the state over the next couple of years for sure.
“So (the referendum) is in part a hedge to address that but it also is to allow us to continue to keep our effective class sizes and programs that we have in place right now.”
The referendum money will be used to “supplement our available operating expenses,” he said, noting that includes staffing and maintenance.
School Board President Joe Martin said even if the number of staff stays the same, the costs for those staff, including healthcare go up.
“We certainly don’t pay people the exact same wage that we paid them 5 years ago,” he said.
When asked, “What do you say to voters who say that the operational referendum is starting to look more like forever than five years,” Martin said, “Putting finite timeframes out there gives us time to reevaluate that time and we’ll know more what happens to our funding limits from the state, etc.”
If approved in November, the operational referendum would take effect in July 2021.
What if the referendum doesn’t pass?
If the Nov. 3 referendum fails, it can be brought back to voters in April.
“We would need to start planning over the winter where we would make those $2.5 million in reductions for the upcoming year,” Dahman said. “It’s important for us to have a balanced budget so if our revenue is decreased by $2.5 million, we would need to reduce our budgeted expenditures by that same amount.
He said a committee of stakeholders, including community members, from across the district would be formed to look at options to reduce expenditures.
The $2.5 million is about 5 to 6% of the district’s overall budget.
With a little over 80% of the budget in staffing, Dahman said a significant amount of those reductions would have to come in staffing, which would lead to larger class sizes, fewer course offerings at the high school and fewer opportunities for students.