I spoke today with Dr. Joe Zydowsky, the Superintendent of the School District of the Menomonie Area, about the upcoming operational referendum election, why the money is needed, and what will happen in the district if it does not pass. The following is a machine-generated transcript of the conversation. The referendum guide mentioned is attached below the article.


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Joe Zydowsky, Steve Hanson


Steve Hanson 00:00

I'm here today talking to Joe Zydowsky, the superintendent of the school district of the Menominee. area, and we're going to talk about the upcoming referendum election and how that is working and what you need to know about it.


Joe Zydowsky 00:17

I appreciate you taking the time to do this interview today. Okay,


Steve Hanson 00:21

So I think our listeners and readers have a lot of interesting questions about this, because it's come up kind of all of a sudden and state legislature has been claiming that they have raised levels of school funding. And so why does the school district need to have a referendum to keep operating? And why does it need to be a continuing referendum or an operational referendum instead of a one time thing?


Joe Zydowsky 00:48

Well, that's, that's a lot of information that we're going to cover with this question. But first of all, I'd like to just address the issue of it being all of a sudden, you know, this issue has been talked about for years, across Wisconsin, about inequities and funding of schools. In Menominee, things have gone very well. We've been very stable with our with our budget. However, the most recent state budget that was signed, just is not adequate to replace pandemic funding and to deal with high inflation. So when that budget was signed this summer, we knew there was going to be challenges. We talked a lot in August at the annual meeting about the crossroads that our district was facing. And the school board on Monday, they did approve a resolution calling for a referendum on February 20. Now the referendum here Menominee is going to be a $4.2 million recurring referendum. It's an operational referendum. And what operational means is that allows us to use the new revenue to continue with our operations. Operations, such as our transportation such as our instruction, our equipment and supplies, everything that goes into the school district, for the most part is part of district operations. But in the district, here in Menominee, we are looking at a major budget deficit if a referendum is not passed. Now with the state the other part of your question, claiming to fund education, certainly we're appreciative of all the funding that we receive for public education. But there have been a lot of maneuvers in the past where politicians have claimed that extra dollars weret going to education, whether it be through school, levy credits, increased dollars to the equalized aid formula, but none of those dollars are spendable by schools unless the revenue limit increases. And during the pandemic, the revenue limit in Wisconsin, for all schools was frozen schools were left to rely on federal pandemic money. And by doing so that created a large fiscal cliff. And that's one of the reasons why we're here asking for a referendum today.


Steve Hanson 02:53

Okay, so it is sort of a little bit deceptive in that most of those increases in school funding actually went for property tax relief, rather than actually getting spent on schools.


Joe Zydowsky 03:05

Yeah, I think if someone doesn't understand how school finance works, which school finance in Wisconsin is a complicated subject. But yes, if dollars are put into the equalized aid formula, but there's not a corresponding increase to the revenue limits, which is how much revenue a school can generate, then essentially, those dollars going into the equalization formula, do come in the form of tax relief, because those dollars can't be spent by schools.


Steve Hanson 03:31

Sure. What are the alternatives to the additional spending, that referendum would cover? What would happen to the school district if the referendum does not pass?


Joe Zydowsky 03:40

Well, in terms of additional spending, we're not looking to add major programming, and we're not looking to add any facilities or major equipment. This is about continuing the operations that we have in the school district, we have over $2.8 million of our budget this school year, that's relying on federal pandemic money. And when those dollars expire at the end of this year, that's a big hole that's going to be left behind. Then when we talk about 8% inflation last year, and who knows what it's going to be this year. We're just in a situation that's not sustainable. So this is an added this isn't about adding new things in the school district. This is about continuing the services and programming that our students enjoy right now.


Steve Hanson 04:22

When is the election coming up


Joe Zydowsky 04:22

The election will be February 20. And we've had some questions about you know, why February? Why not wait till the general election in April? But what I can tell you, Steve, is that in the school district, we're already planning for the 2024 2025 school year. It's a big job to make sure that we have enough programming, classes, teachers, support staff, all of those decisions are starting to be made or will be started to be made right away in January and into the spring. So knowing what our revenue is going to be With the referendum and February 20, is very important.


Steve Hanson 05:04

Okay, well, how much will property taxes go up if the referendum passes? What, can our viewers expect?


Joe Zydowsky 05:11

Yeah, and I do need to point out that, you know, we do the best we can to provide solid estimates and projections. Also tax rates and what the actual tax bills are, will vary depending on each individual's property valuation. But what we're projecting right now is that the $4.2 million referendum would cost taxpayers an additional $82. In 2024, for every $100,000 evaluation. That comes out to about $6.83 a month. So we do think that that's, you know, hopefully an affordable measure for most people, and very valuable for the services that will provide our kids, sir,


Steve Hanson 05:52

Anything else you'd like people to know about the referendum or the school district in general at this time?


Joe Zydowsky 05:57

Well, part of your last question, Steve was, you know, what, what happens if it doesn't pass as if the referendum doesn't pass and what would need to be cut, and that's the unfortunate part of this is, you know, when we're looking at this kind of deficit, when we're looking at revenue, not meeting the needs of the budget, reductions would have to be made. And we're not talking about, you know, just reducing some classroom budgets or reducing some administrative overhead or something like that $4.2 million, is a lot of money. So we're talking about major programs, we're talking about transportation, you know, the ability to have , as many students picked up as we do now. We would be looking at deferral of important capital, capital maintenance projects, technology upgrades, our technology, you know how that goes. It would get outdated very quickly, if we don't stay on top of technology. But my biggest concern is the academic support for students. Here, we have added academic support over the years to help every student reach their full potential in the classroom. And we do have a lot of students that need extra help. I am worried about 40% of our students in Menominee, that are economically disadvantaged. And it's not just those students, but it's all of our students who need a personalized plan to help them become the best student that they can be. And without this kind of funding, a lot of those supports will have to go away.


Steve Hanson 07:21

Okay, other than of course, following along on Wiscommunity with what's going on, how can people find out more about the referendum or the budget for any questions they have.


Joe Zydowsky 07:30

We've been trying to be very clear with the challenges starting with the annual meeting. We also have a mid year budget hearing in January, we certainly encourage people to follow along with the school board meetings that happen, the second and fourth Tuesday of every sorry, second and fourth Monday of every month, Steve, I know you will come and you record those meetings and post them on Wiscommunity. But this referendum is something different. This referendum is something that is extra important. So we are going to have a number of community listening sessions. They'll be posted on the district website, there has been a referendum guide that's on our district website right on the front page. So between, you know, taking a look at that referendum guide, taking a look at the literature that will be sent home to all the box holders in the school district, and then attending one of those presentations if people are able to, I really think that that would be a good way for people to stay informed in terms of what's happening with the referendum.


Steve Hanson 08:27

Unless you have anything else. I want to thank you for your time Dr. Zydowsky, and let you get back to all the work that I'm sure you have left to do.


Joe Zydowsky 08:35

My pleasure, Steve, and if you are if any of the viewers have any questions, please don't hesitate to call the office here or stopping at the ASC. I would love to have a chat and explain more about this referendum and not only the details about it, but also the importance of it for our students. Thank you. My pleasure.

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Steve Hanson

Steve is a web designer and recently retired from running the hosting and development company Cruiskeen Consulting LLC. Cruiskeen Consulting LLC is the parent company of Wis.Community, and publication of this site continues after his retirement.

Steve is a member of LION Publishers and the Local Media Association, is active in Health Dunn Right, and is vice-president of the League of Women Voters of the greater Chippewa Valley



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