Merrill’s School Board forwards operating referendum for community vote
In next Tuesday’s election, district voters will decide whether to approve a $2.5 million operating referendum for Merrill Area Public Schools.
In an effort to address significant budget shortfalls, members of the Merrill Area Public School Board voted unanimously at its Dec. 20, 2017, regular board meeting to place an operational funding referendum question on the April 3 ballot.
The proposed operating referendum asks for $2.5 million, for each of the next four years. If approved by voters, the referendum will cost an estimated $6 per year for each $100,000 of property value, over the current 2017-18 school tax levy.
The 2017-18 mill rate was $9 per $1,000 of property value. According to information provided by MAPS, a failed referendum would drop the mill rate by $2.04 per $1,000 of property value from the 2017-18 levy – or $204 on a $100,000 property. The reason for that decline is that the debt from MAPS’ last successful referendum, which authorized the construction of Kate Goodrich Elementary School and the additions to the junior high school to become the new Merrill High School facility, will be paid off with a final $1.5 million payment in the 2018 MAPS budget. A successful referendum this time around would replace the old referendum on the tax levy, plus 6 cents.
Going forward, for 2019-20, the mill rate is projected to be $8.44 with a successful referendum and $6.80 without; for 2020-21, $8.25 with and $6.62 without; for 2021-22, $8.20 with and $6.56 without.
MAPS held its final referendum informational meeting last Monday and Superintendent Dr. John Sample held his last open door session on the referendum last Friday.
Sample said he’ll be satisfied with the results of the referendum, “as long as voters are making their decisions with the facts.”
Funding provided by the referendum would support industrial and technical education, maintain current programs, high-quality staff, and provide for priority building maintenance.
A survey of district residents conducted last fall showed support for a referendum of at least $2.5 million, with 62% of all survey participants supporting increased funding. Respondents were also asked to prioritize areas where additional funding should be used, resulting a focus on industrial and technical education, maintaining current programs, recruitment and retention of high-quality staff, and providing for priority building maintenance.
The Board of Education has already set a plan in place for the potential of a failed referendum. If the referendum fails, the board is looking at a strategy that includes closing Jefferson and Maple Grove elementary schools. Under that plan, Washington and Kate Goodrich elementary schools would each house kindergarten through grade three. Prairie River Middle School would become a grade 4-7 middle school and eighth grade would be moved to Merrill High School. Related to staff reductions only, the cost savings of the move is estimated at $951,000. An additional $780,000 in identified long-term building maintenance costs at Jefferson and Maple Grove would be avoided with the closure of those buildings.
Overall, MAPS enrollment numbers show a pretty steady decline into the future, from the current MHS junior class of 212 students to the current kindergarten classes at 133 students. The district receives state revenue based on the number of students that are enrolled in the district. As MAPS enrollment declines, so does MAPS revenue. School districts in Wisconsin are also capped at how much tax money they can levy. In order to go over that amount, a successful referendum is required. Since 2010, MAPS’ maximum revenue limit has declined from $29 million to just over $26 million.
More referendum information, along with the full survey results, are available on the Merrill Area Public Schools website at http://www.maps.k12.wi.us/.