Superintendents say legislation proposed by Stroebel threatens local control, critical funding mechanism
A bill introduced last week by Republican State Sen. Duey Stroebel of the Town of Cedarburg that would limit the ability of school districts to finance capital improvement projects and other expenses through referendums is being criticized by area school leaders as an attempt to wrestle local control of schools from communities and meddle needlessly in a critical component of education funding.
“Who is this legislator to tell the hard-working people of Grafton or Port Washington or other districts that they can’t control their local schools?” asked Mel Lightner, superintendent of the Grafton School District, which is considering holding a $49.5 million referendum in April to pay for school improvements.
“I think we have completely lost our way when it comes to state and local politics.”
Supt. Michael Weber of the Port Washington-Saukville School District, where voters approved a $49.4 referendum in April, characterized the bill as a solution to a problem that doesn’t exist, one that would threaten the ability of school leaders and voters to decide how to best educate students.
“I’m struggling to figure out the purpose of this legislation,” Weber said. “I’m just not aware of communities that have been taking advantage of the referendum system.
“We have a state system that calls for local control and local decision making. And we have legislators who profess to support that system yet propose legislation that would do just the opposite. That’s confusing to me.”
Stroebel’s bill would require districts to hold referendums during spring or fall general elections, when voter turnout is typically the highest. Currently, districts may hold special elections to put referendums to a vote.
The bill would also prohibit districts whose referendums fail from putting another referendum on the ballot for two years.