Madison school district answers questions on $26M referendum

MADISON, Wis. - The Madison School District held the first of two informational forums this month for residents to learn about the $26 million operating referendum on the Nov. 8 ballot.

A session was held at La Follette High School Thursday night and another is scheduled at Memorial High School on Oct. 27 at 6:30 p.m.

Samara Safarik has two daughters; 5-year-old Charlotte just started kindergarten at Orchard Ride Elementary.

"I want to know that she will have the resources that she needs," Safarik said.

Providing those resources for her daughters and other students just like them is a top priority, Safarik said.

It's why she is supporting the referendum that would save the district from having to make cuts to its operational cost.

"I see teachers being really overwhelmed. I want them (teachers )to feel like the classroom is thriving not like the classroom is barely surviving," she said.

If the referendum passes, it would allow the district to permanently exceed state-imposed revenue limits by $26 million each year into perpetuity. The additional funds would be phased in over four years, so 2019 would be the first year the full $26 million would go into effect.

Funds would not be invested into buildings, but the people inside of them. Over the last two years, the district cut 120 positions. Cuts in state funding and an expected 1 percent increase in revenue, will eventually affect the classroom, MMSD Superintendent Jennifer Cheatham said.

"We have established a set of clear priorities to move the district forward and simultaneously made difficult decisions to make cuts, obviously trying to keep those cuts as far away from the classroom as possible, but we have made all those cuts," she said.

The plan would raise the district's revenue cap by $5 million in 2016-17, another $5 million in 2017-18, an additional $8 million in 2018-19 and another $8 million in 2019-20.

The additional revenue would allow the district to continue the progress they say they have seen in closing achievement gaps and increasing high school graduation rates in the last few years.

"We want to keep that momentum going," Cheatham explained. "We just don't need to do more of the same but we need to accelerate them and deepen that work."

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