More (Local) Government

A 1992 Wisconsin law limits the revenue a school district can raise through property taxes.  When operating costs exceed that limit, districts have to ask voters to make up the difference.  The idea behind the law was to control skyrocketing teacher salaries and benefits by holding annual increases to 3.8 percent per year.  The state would also kick in money to hold down property taxes.  The unintended consequence of this scheme was rising salaries for other district employees (janitors, administrators, cooks, bus drivers), while the revenue caps never grew with the rate of inflation.  At the same time, state money is allocated based on enrollment rather than need, so poorer rural and inner-city school districts that are declining in student population have lost out again.

This has meant endless referenda over the past decade.  Durand, the school district I live in, had one last spring.

These referenda have become especially divisive; both sides are essentially right.  The schools need money just to keep operating at current levels, especially in the wake of higher fuel, energy, and healthcare costs.  Yet the taxpayers simply do not have the incomes necessary to meet such increasing costs, especially in bad economic times.  In a letter to the editor in the Durand Courier-Wedge, a gentleman asked, in all sincerity, why the school district wasn’t tightening its belt by eliminating...

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