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Just over half of school referenda pass in spring election

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Just over half of school referenda pass in spring election

April 5, 2023 9:44 AM CDT

By: Jimmie Kaska

MADISON, Wis. (Civic Media) – A little more than half of school referendum questions on the 2023 Spring Election ballot in Wisconsin succeeded, according to election night returns provided by county clerks in Wisconsin.

Pre-canvassing, 47 of 83 school referenda succeed, with 36 failing, according to data from the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction and county clerk websites.

56.6% of school referendum questions succeeded on this year’s ballots, the lowest percentage in two years. Last fall, 64 out of 81 referenda questions passed, or 79%. Last spring, 65 of 81 questions were voted “yes,” or 80%. In Spring 2021’s election, just 42 of 70 (60%) of school referenda questions passed, with that vote held within the first year of the coronavirus pandemic.

Of the 47 successful referenda, nine passed by fewer than 100 votes. Of the 36 failed referenda, eight were rejected by fewer than 100 votes. 17 of the 83 school referenda questions were decided within 100 votes of passing or failing, according to DPI and county clerk election return data, or 20.5%.

Two districts warned of potential consolidation with failed referenda, but both Adams-Friendship and Athens school district voters comfortably passed operating referendum questions. Several other districts suggested cuts to extra-curricular activities, athletics, staffing and programming if the referenda weren’t approved, leaving tough decisions in several communities across the state.

Of the 36 failed referenda, 26 sought to exceed the revenue limit to pay for operational and maintenance needs with federal COVID relief funding (ESSER) drying up after the next fiscal year and to make up for the pace of inflation far exceeding state funding for public schools.

With no fall election in 2023, the next time schools can go to referendum will be in the spring of 2024, unless a district decides to pay for a special election.

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