Addressing Needs in the Whitewater Unified School District
The Whitewater Unified School District has served students and families well over the course of generations. However, our district also faces significant financial challenges that are largely out of our control and tied to the state of Wisconsin’s school funding system.
In 2018, voters in WUSD approved a four-year operational referendum to increase the district's revenue limit authority. That referendum has expired. Now, the board is asking residents to renew the referendum on Tuesday, November 8, 2022.
With this renewal, the district and board are not asking the community for additional funding—despite rising costs over the past several years. As a result, taxpayers are likely to realize a reduction on their property tax bills.
The district and board are proposing a solution that allows us to maintain the programs and services available to our students now and in the years to come. We must do so while making the most efficient use possible of the money taxpayers have invested in our local schools.
This webpage offers background information and answers to frequently asked questions related to the November 8 referendum. If you have further questions, please do not hesitate to contact us at 262-472-8700 or email@example.com.
Thank you for taking part in this important conversation about the future of Whitewater schools!
Frequently Asked Questions
Were the ESSER funds used on the turf/fields project instead of educational purposes?
WUSD did not utilize ESSER (Elementary and Secondary Schools Emergency Relief Funds) on the turf/fields project. WUSD used the appropriate and proper governance process for allocating ESSER funds and followed ESSER Grant requirements. This included approval of over $1 million towards direct intervention for learning needs. The following were the allocations approved by the WUSD School Board:
Elementary Math Curriculum ($75,000)
AVMR - Math Recovery Training and Intervention program ($25,000)
Neuro Strategies for Reaching all students ($20,000)
EL Intervention Teacher ($75,000)
Elementary Math Interventionist (Supplanted- $66,000)
MS Math Interventionist (Supplanted- $52,000)
HS Math Interventionist (Supplanted- $42,000)
Elementary Virtual Model (Supplanted and supplemented - 6 teachers all virtual for families to choose best model fit- $293,000, which served 250 students in 2020)
1:1 Chromebook initiative to assure home access for every student if/when virtual was necessary (Supplanted- $150,000)
IT Intern to support increased needs related to IT ($15,000)
Additional costs related to Virtual tuition ($150,000)
See Saw Virtual platform ($10,000)
Health Aide ($18,000)
HS Chiller/Air Purification Replacement to assure air quality, chiller well past life span ($270,000)
HVAC Cleaning ($75,000)
By using the ESSER funding to address existing costs towards learning and needs related to COVID-19, we were able to invest local funds for facility upgrades that have previously been identified as necessary projects. Those projects included addressing air conditioning in our only building with no air conditioned spaces, addressing leaking roofs, and the issues with athletic event cancellations due to flooding fields that impacted our community. Continuing to have facilities that can safely and effectively meet the needs and demands of our greater WUSD community is a priority when considering recruitment and retention.
Rationale for Turf Field
The unaddressed athletic fields demonstrated persistent drainage issues. This was reviewed by our Board from 2015-2018 and no action was taken, as none of the vendors that were assessing the fields were able to guarantee that their very expensive recommendations would be guaranteed to address the flooding/bedrock issues. (The bids at the time ranged from $500k-$800k with no guarantee to address the concerns.)
The new synthetic turf fields allow our students to participate in their activities despite the amount of precipitation experienced and lessens the possibility of student injury. For example, we had physical education and band students utilizing the fields in April and May of last year. This could never have occurred on the older grass layouts.
The synthetic fields are accessible throughout full seasons for our athletes and impact a large number of teams and students. (363 students participated in our HS athletic programs last year, with a huge percentage participating in multiple sports. Additionally, we had 280 students participating in our 5th-8th grade athletics. In perspective, that is more than our entire HS population in quantity, so a significant number of students are impacted when the fields are not in good repair.)
The updated fields allow our district to be a WIAA approved site for athletic events.
We know that healthy athletic programs connect students to adults and our outcomes show that they generate excellent GPAs. Our average athlete’s GPA was 3.56 last year.
Finally, even with the fields under construction and the impact of COVID on attendance for part of last year, athletic events that occurred last year generated $26,498.00 in revenue. This revenue is used to support the long-term maintenance of the fields. The district is actively engaging with AAU select teams to host tournaments on our fields. This will bring revenue back to the district and the city as well.
In Wisconsin, there are 490 high schools. Of those high schools, 25% have turf fields. It is unusual to see a district that is planning a revitalization that is staying with non-turf fields. In the 2021-22 school year, approximately 45 turf fields were added at Wisconsin schools, now totaling 120 school districts in the state with turf athletic facilities.
Elkhorn, Delavan-Darien and Big Foot are major competitors in the area with turf. Jefferson just came for a visit to our fields as they are planning an install of turf as well.
Had we not completed the athletic fields, we would still be asking for a referendum.
Did the District's determined service delivery model during COVID-19 cost the tax payers $10 million due to families leaving the district?
No, the claim that the district lost $10 million during the pandemic is inaccurate. Like all other districts in our state and nation, our Board was faced with providing a balance of safety and education.
In terms of open enrollment, WUSD had experienced an open enrollment loss of students long before the pandemic. The most cited reason for families selecting open enrollment was “proximity to the parents' work.” The number of students who open enrolled out of WUSD dropped from 301 last year to 261 this year, representing a return of 40 students. Additionally, our total enrollment has increased by 87 total students this year.
Does the District spend significantly more than other districts per student?
Overall, WUSD spends about $16,200 per student, which is in alignment with other regional school districts.
Are we losing ground on our ACT scores?
This is both a yes and a no. Yes, our scores have declined. There is also a national decline in ACT scores; in fact, the Chief Executive Officer of ACT released a statement that the national scores on the ACT college admissions test “Hit their lowest point in more than 30 years.”
Despite the challenges of learning loss presented for a generation of students nationwide, WUSD students still made gains over the past year. Our ACT comparison, when disaggregated for our non-economically disadvantaged students, remains competitive with our neighboring districts. This means we have continued work to do in order to assure all students have this level of success and opportunity. It’s also important to understand that we serve one of the highest percentages of economically disadvantaged students in the region. This emphasizes the importance of our staffing and referendum.
What happens if we don’t pass a referendum?
Here is a breakdown of the percentage allocated to each category of spending in our operating budget. If the operating referendum is not approved by voters, we would be required to cut approximately 15% of the budget.
As you can see, the majority of our operational budget is dedicated to staffing (74%), so it would be devastating to our ability to continue our current programs and services.
Why does WUSD have financial needs?
In Wisconsin, the amount of money a school district receives is restricted by a revenue limit, also known as a revenue cap. Every district has its own revenue limit, which is impacted by the state budget every two years and is highly dependent on annual enrollment changes. WUSD's revenue limit dictates the majority of its operational budget.
In recent years, state budgets have not increased revenue limits to keep up with inflation. Additionally, the district is projecting declining enrollment in the next several years. Fewer students means the state is reducing WUSD's revenue limit at a rate faster than the district’s ability to realize cost savings.
While we have seen increases in health insurance premiums and other costs related to inflation and investments in technology, our revenue limit has not kept pace.
The 2021-23 state budget froze revenues for public schools. Wisconsin’s per-pupil spending has grown at the third-slowest rate in the country since 2002.
Additionally, the needs of our students have increased dramatically, especially in the areas of special education and mental health. Finally, costs for things like transportation, utilities, and insurance continue to increase, as do other expenses that are out of the district’s control.
The School Board and district administration have worked extremely hard to make the most of every single dollar community members have invested into their local schools. However, we must work with our community to find a solution to our needs and avoid significant cuts to programs and services.
If the referendum is approved by voters, what would the funds cover?
If approved, the referendum would provide WUSD with extended revenue limit authority, allowing us to maintain:
Robust Academic & Athletic Opportunities
Diverse and extensive student engagement opportunities (for a district of our size, we offer a large number of activities)
Athletic programs starting in 5th grade, focused on developing student leadership and teamwork
Student Support & Mental Health Services
Additional positions, such as social workers, school counselors, behavior specialists, and a school nurse, were added as a result of the last referendum in 2018
Contracted specialized services for exceptional student needs (i.e., transportation)
Comprehensive Instructional & Co-Curricular Programs
Interactive math curriculum adoption for the 2022-23 school year for all three elementary schools
Educator professional development
Highly qualified teachers certified to offer specific programs, including advanced learning and multilingual teachers
Bilingual instruction (six teachers, one coordinator, and a community liaison added to support our growing multilingual learners)
Special education services
Career and Technical Education (CTE) workforce certifications (a full-time CTE teacher was added at the middle school level)
Technology & Facilities
1:1 Chromebook devices (2,000 purchased in 2020 and a financial commitment to a replacement cycle at 3rd, 6th and 9th grades)
Robust access to the internet
New Wi-Fi switches in each building
Interactive technologies in each classroom
Annual school building maintenance
What is the total amount of the referendum?
In November 2022, we are asking community members of the Whitewater Unified School District to vote on a non-recurring operational referendum question. If the referendum is approved, it will provide a total of $17.6 million over four years in revenue limit authority:
2023-24 School Year = $4.4 million
2024-25 SY = $4.4 million
2025-26 SY = $4.4 million
2026-27 SY = $4.4 million
How would this referendum affect local property taxes?
If approved by voters, the referendum would not result in a property tax increase for taxpayers.
The current levy is $18,256,742 with a mill rate at $11.00 per every $1,000 of fair market property value. The projected levy with an approved referendum would be $16,946,148, with a mill rate at $8.76 per $1,000 of fair market property value.
These levy projections assume flat enrollment growth, equalized value growth of 2%, and standard debt levy. The district is in the process of defeasing Fund 39 debt which will reduce the debt levy moving forward.
Didn’t we just pass a referendum a few years ago?
In 2018, voters in WUSD approved a four-year operational referendum to increase the district’s revenue limit authority. This referendum will sunset in June 2023. The board now must return to taxpayers for their approval of a replacement referendum in November 2022.
Since 1993, WUSD has needed to engage in a referendum process 10 times.
If approved by voters, will the new referendum expire?
Yes. Like the referendum that was passed by voters in 2018, the November 2022 referendum is a non-recurring, four-year referendum. This means it will expire in four years unless voters approve another referendum.
Has the School Board engaged the community into this process?
Yes! Just like we have done with previous referendum proposals, we are using an inclusive process to address the district’s needs. The board and district leadership will engage community members to help us share a solution that balances the district's needs with those of the Whitewater community.
Included in this process is the district’s Citizen Finance Advisory Committee, a group of community and business leaders, including the Kiwanis, Rotary, Greater Whitewater Committee, municipalities, parent-teacher associations/organizations, Whitewater Chamber of Commerce, UW-Whitewater Community Optimist Club, and the Whitewater Music Parent Association.
Additionally, the district has worked with its financial advisor to conduct forecasts and find ways to protect both the district’s schools and local taxpayers. Since 2010, WUSD has executed a comprehensive financial plan to maximize its resources. As we move forward, community members will have multiple opportunities to take part and make their voices heard.
Why can’t the district make cuts to address its financial challenges?
Over the years, the district has worked to reduce expenses. We have negotiated with health insurers for renewal decreases, transitioned to self-funded dental insurance, and implemented measures to increase energy efficiency in our buildings.
To maintain the level of quality education our families and community members have come to expect from Whitewater schools, the district and board believe we cannot afford to cut programs and services any further. Our top priority is to continue our legacy of delivering the best possible educational experience to each and every student.
In taking this step, WUSD is joining numerous other Wisconsin school districts that are experiencing the same challenges due to lack of funding needed to maintain the instructional quality and services our community and families have come to expect.
Since 2016, more than 70% of Wisconsin’s 421 school districts have proposed at least one type of referendum question to their communities.
Can the district use federal COVID relief funds to address its financial needs?
The district has received one-time federal money through the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER I, ESSER II, and ESSER III) Funds, which were part of the COVID-19 relief efforts. The district has spent some of this money in 2020 and 2021, and has until 2024 to use what we will eventually be eligible to receive.
This money has been helpful, but it is temporary in nature and will do little to address our long-term financial needs.
Would this referendum be necessary had the district not installed new turf fields at the high school?
Yes. The installation of the turf field was made possible due to a temporary budget surplus in the WUSD due to one-time COVID-19 relief (ESSER) funds the district received. While ESSER funds were directed at addressing needs arising from the pandemic, the budget surplus enabled the district to address a number facility needs throughout our schools. This included addressing the issues associated with flooding fields and athletic cancellations that had impacted our community.
It’s important to note that this surplus was temporary in nature and did little to help our long-term financial needs.
Below is our rationale for investing in our athletic fields:
The unaddressed athletic fields demonstrated persistent drainage issues. This was reviewed by our board from 2015 to 2018 and no action was taken, as none of the vendors that were assessing the fields were able to guarantee that their expensive recommendations would be guaranteed to address the flooding/bedrock issues. The bids at the time ranged from $500,000 to $800,000, with no guarantee to address the concerns.
The new synthetic turf fields allow our students to participate in their activities despite the amount of precipitation experienced and lessens the possibility of student injury. For example, we had physical education and band students using the fields in April and May 2021. This could never have occurred on the older grass layouts.
The synthetic fields are accessible throughout full seasons for our athletes and impact a large number of teams and students.
The updated fields allow our district to be a WIAA-approved site for athletic events.
We know that healthy athletic programs connect students to adults, and our outcomes show that they generate excellent GPAs. Our average athlete’s GPA was 3.56 last year.
Finally, even with the fields under construction and the impact of COVID on attendance for part of last year, athletic events that occurred last year generated $26,498 in revenue. This revenue is used to support the long-term maintenance of the fields.
When will the community get to vote on this?
The referendum question will appear on the ballot during the regularly scheduled election on November 8, 2022. For voting and polling location information, please visit the Jefferson County, Rock County, or Walworth County websites.
Can I vote early?
Registered voters in Wisconsin may vote early by mail by requesting an absentee ballot. You can make your request by visiting https://myvote.wi.gov/en-us/Vote-Absentee-By-Mail.
Residents may also vote in-person before election day. For more information on this option, please visit https://myvote.wi.gov/en-us/Vote-Absentee-In-Person.
What is the question that will appear on the ballot?
The following is the exact language voters in the Whitewater Unified School District will see on the ballot November 8, 2022:
Shall the Whitewater Unified School District, Walworth, Jefferson and Rock Counties, Wisconsin, be authorized to exceed the revenue limit specified in Section 121.91, Wisconsin statutes, by $4,400,000 per year beginning with the 2023-2024 school year and ending with the 2026-2027 school year, for non-recurring purposes consisting of the following: maintaining targeted class sizes, maintaining student support and mental health services, maintaining comprehensive instructional and co-curricular programs, and maintaining technology, safety, and facilities infrastructure?