Nicolet School Board OKs Plans for $10 million Referendum
After a 4-1 vote and passionate comments from the audience, the referendum question will go on the April ballot.
In front of a packed house filled with passionate teachers, students and residents, the Nicolet School Board Thursday night voted 4-1 to put a referendum on the April ballot that calls for increasing taxes by more than $10 million over the next five years.
"You can't use a Band-Aid on a cut artery," board member Laurel Bear said, referring to the district's financial situation. "Maybe I'm bold, but you get educated and you don't live in fear."
Also voting for the referendum were Kelly Herda, Marilyn Franklin and Ellen Redeker. The sole "no" vote was cast by Jennifer Peltz.
"We haven't told our story long or well enough," Peltz said, who called for waiting a year or so before seeking a referendum, and instead advocated using the existing fund balance to avoid making budget cuts.
After an extensive, 45-slide PowerPoint presentation that reviewed the cuts the district has made and the financial projection is for the future, administrators recommended that the board approve a referendum for $1 million for each of the next two years.
This prompted energetic feedback from many audience members. The common message was that a total $2 million referendum would not be enough, and by the time it would get passed, Nicolet would be asking for more money. So an audience member asked hat it would take to ease the district's financial woes.
"If we look at a five-year plan, and we want to stay financially whole so we net out at zero at the end of five years, what should the dollar amount be for a referendum?" asked Steve Russek, a Nicolet parent.
Finance Director Jeff Dellutri said that figure would be $2.4 million annually over a five-year period or more. This sparked a dollar figure for an amended motion from the board later that evening.
The board ultimately voted to put a referendum on the April 5 ballot that will ask voters to allow the district to increase its state-imposed revenue cap by $2.15 million in each of the next five years.
If approved by voters, that would raise property taxes by about $130 for the owner of a home assessed at $250,000, officials said.
Two Nicolet parents, Craig Zetley and Allan Carneol, organized an e-mail petition recently attempting to explain to people how dire the need for a referendum is at Nicolet. They received 250 responses in just five days.
"The reason this school is so good is the teachers, and they’re burning out," Zetley said. "We are paying more for Milwaukee County than we are for Nicolet. Without a strong school, people will move out. Two years isn’t going to convince anybody. In 18 months, we’re not going to get another referendum passed."
Zetley then asked audience members how many would support a referendum with a higher dollar amount, and nearly everyone in the room raised their hands.
"I think that the response from the community is saying they’re willing to pony up because losing 18 coaches and the fear of higher class sizes reduces the quality of Nicolet," Carneol said. "I urge the board to consider a longer term, and more expensive term."
The comments then shifted to a younger generation - current Nicolet High School students.
Laura LeBrun, a junior at Nicolet, said that when the board says its needs to work harder at getting the message out and educating people, it should start with the students.
"The students really convey that we love the school," LeBrun said. "We need to know about this, too. Honestly, I didn’t have a clue. We’re the best way to get the word out to our parents. We want the money to be spent, to keep our school."
That comment was followed by thunderous applause from the audience.
Zoe Russek, a junior at Nicolet, said if a referendum doesn't pass and many electives get cut, there won't be much joy left to school.
" I have to say that if it weren’t for the art classes and electives, my day would be overwhelming. Painting is my only way to escape," Russek said.
District Administrator Rick Monroe said school board typically approve referendums that are less than what the administration suggests, so Thursday's move was a surprise.
"This shows the support for a quality education," he said. "The administration was hoping for more, but we wanted to be sure we had the support."