2020 Referenda - Future Ready

Stronger together,
now more than ever

We are facing a unique opportunity to invest in Madison’s future, which lies in the hands of our public school system’s 27,000 growing minds.

Read the referenda overview
Read the community input report
Read the referenda slide deck

You spoke. We listened...

50 Input Sessions
Includes Targeted, Informational and Open Community

4456 Responses
to Community Survey. Includes MMSD families, students, staff and community members


Operating

$33M
Continue our momentum in equitable opportunities, rich programming and retaining high-quality staff

webref-01.jpg


Allow Madison’s public schools to continue and grow strategic equity projects aimed at disrupting societal and historical inequities and eliminating disparities based on race and socioeconomic status.
Part of a $33 million operational investment
Read about our Equity Projects and Programs


Allow our schools to preserve vital student programming in the arts, music, science, technology, athletics and more, giving Madison’s future citizens and leaders a wide breadth of foundational experiences.
Part of a $33 million operational investment


Place and maintain highly qualified educators in our classrooms, with a focus on teachers of color and avoiding teacher layoffs that result in increased class sizes.
Part of a $33 million operational investment


Capital

$317M
Most pressing building projects in support of our academic vision

2020 Referenda FAQs

Facilities Referendum Questions

  • The 2020 November referenda has two separate referendum questions, one focused on facilities and another focused on providing funds for MMSD to continue operating.

    The facilities referendum totaling about $317M* will include: 

    • Significant renovations that will transform learning environments in our four main high schools.

    • Moving our Capital High Westside students out of an over-capacity leased strip mall site and our Capital High Eastside students out of borrowed space inside Lapham Elementary School into a permanent home in a school building we own, Hoyt School.

    • Building a new elementary school in the Rimrock area to give underserved students and families a much-needed school in their neighborhood.

    *After broad community feedback expressing a desire for additional investments in environmental sustainability projects at our four comprehensive high schools, the board responded by adding $2M to the referenda to improve the environmental sustainability and health of our high schools.

  • Shall the Madison Metropolitan School District, Dane County, Wisconsin be authorized to issue pursuant to Chapter 67 of the Wisconsin Statutes, general obligation bonds in an amount not to exceed $317,000,000 for the public purpose of paying the cost of a school building and facility improvement project consisting of: renovations and additions at all four high schools, including safety and security improvements, plumbing/heating and cooling, science labs and classrooms, athletic, theatre, and environmental sustainability improvements; land acquisition for and construction of a new elementary school located near Rimrock Road to relocate an existing elementary school; remodeling the district owned Hoyt School to relocate Capital High; and acquisition of furnishings fixtures and equipment?

  • “The evidence is unambiguous – the school building impacts student health, thinking, and performance.” – Harvard School of Public Health 

    • MMSD identified the most critical projects based on an index of facility conditions, enrollment projections, city planning information, population shifts, community feedback and facilities studies going back more than 10 years. For the last two years, the district has been getting feedback from the community via our creation of a Long Range Facility Plan.  The Long Range Facility Plan can be found here: accountability.madison.k12.wi.us/building-excellence

    • Renovating the high schools gives MMSD an opportunity to impact one third of our students, in every attendance area across the city, and all of our students over time as they progress into high school. MMSD's families and students have told us to bring our school buildings into the 21st century with innovative, modern, flexible, classrooms that support multiple learning styles. We see the futures of MMSD students in safe spaces that are well-lit, inviting, accessible, and climate-controlled and that foster engagement, relationship building, and positive climate and culture.

    • Investments in facilities would better reflect the value the community places on Madison’s growing minds and future citizens, leaders, and workforce and that represent the cultures and values of the students and families they serve.  If ultimately approved, MMSD would work with two firms, Plunkett Raysich Architects (PRA) and Zimmerman Architectural Studios (ZAS), that specialize in designing K-12 learning/instructional environments. PRA is the same firm that worked with Madison College to develop the Madison College South Campus by engaging students and the community in design charrettes when it was time to design internal spaces. This process will focus on elevating student voice, meeting instructional needs, reflecting the unique culture of each school, and representing the cultures of the students who attend each school.

    • All elementary and middle school students will benefit from the proposed projects as they become high school students when the projects are starting to be completed if the referendum passes. In addition, every school in Madison will benefit from renovating and updating the high schools because MMSD’s trades people who complete repairs should be able to complete maintenance work orders more quickly at elementary and middle schools as the need for their services at the high schools should decline steeply after the renovations.

    • Our annual operating budget for maintenance is about $4 million. It covers maintenance to keep buildings clean, safe, and in the best possible condition. With decreasing state funding and increasing pressure on our operating budget, like most school districts, we need to go to referendum to fund larger capital projects. Many of our surrounding school districts have also gone to facility referendums in the last few years to invest in their facilities. 

    • Yes, we have heard very clearly from students that bathrooms and air temperature and air quality are of the highest concerns. While the facility recommendations provide so much more than this, we will ensure that bathroom work is prioritized. Gender neutral bathrooms are included in our planning efforts.  Students would also have the ability to participate in all the design work, should the referendum pass in 2020.

    • Overall, the enrollment of the district is very steady.  We have been within 2% of 27,000 students for many years and our future projections remain within these margins. 

    • The Long Term Enrollment study actually shows MMSD gaining 1,600 students on the far west side. The plans for Memorial High School include adding classrooms to adequately plan for this growth.

    • The need for the elementary school in the Rimrock Road area is not tied to enrollment projections. We have 32 elementary schools today, and we will have 32 elementary schools should a new school be built. We are leasing a building for approximately $200,000 a year from Monona to house about 300 students.  Building a new school in the Rimrock Road area would allow us to cancel the lease, use the funding from the lease to operate the new building, and provide a school in a community where over 450 elementary students live. Thus, this proposal is meant to be an equity strategy and a long term cost saving strategy, it is not about 'new' enrollment like people are used to seeing for an elementary school proposal.

  • An important lesson learned as we have worked to support students and families during the COVID-19 pandemic is that our public schools emerged through this crisis as the fabric of our city. Our staff and our school buildings are vital to keeping our community functioning. From ensuring students and families can access nutritious meals and internet service to providing mental health support and resources to supporting our community members in innovative ways during times of crisis, our public schools have come through, in good times and in trying times, for Madison. We know that school may look different throughout the COVID-19 pandemic and in the future, and our design plans will be aligned with those needs in mind. A second lesson learned is that our community’s children will always need a place to call home for school that serves their academic and social emotional learning needs in a way that can only take place in a school, together. Our community’s school facilities are as important now as they have ever been in serving as the springboard for our community’s students on their educational paths.

    • The facilities/capital referendum is $50 for every $100,000 in home value, or would be on average $140 per year for the average homeowner, which is then paid off over 22 years. 

    Operating Referendum Questions

  • A $33M* operating referendum to exceed revenue limits would allow us to: 

    • Invest in technology to ensure all students have access to devices and the internet

    • Provide a variety of student programming in arts, music, science/technology, athletics, and more

    • Maintain current teacher workforce and class size ratios

    • Attract and retain high quality teachers, with a focus on hiring teachers of color to better reflect the diversity of our student population

    • Attract and retain students and families in Madison

    • Continue our equity oriented investments outlined in our Strategic Framework – full-day 4K, investing in curriculum and materials that are culturally and linguistically relevant, building a talented workforce that better represents the diversity of our student population through programs like the Grow Our Own staff-to-teachers program, expanding opportunities for students of color, and so on.

    *In January 2020, after gathering input and receiving a detailed report on community feedback, the board indicated a desire to explore what it might look like to decrease the operating referendum from the original $36M figure. Three alternative models were presented in March 2020 for consideration, and they agreed to consider a model that would give the school board increased taxing authority each of the next four years that would be permanent after those four years. In year one, it would add $6 million of taxing authority, with $8 million in year two, $9 million in year three and $10 million in year four, adding up to the $33 million, a $3 million decrease from the original model presented to the community. This model brings the average impact on homeowners down to an $80/year incremental increase over 4 years. 

  • Shall the Madison Metropolitan School District, Dane County, Wisconsin be authorized to exceed the revenue limit specified in Section 121.91, Wisconsin Statutes, by $6,000,000 for 2020-2021 school year; by an additional $8,000,000 (for a total $14,000,000) for 2021-2022 school year; by an additional $9,000,000 (for a total of $23,000,000) for the 2022-23 school year; and by an additional $10,000,000 (for a total of $33,000,000) for the 2023-2024 school year and thereafter, for recurring purposes consisting of operational and maintenance expenses?

    • While 2019-20 saw a slight increase in revenue limit funding from the State for the first time in four years, in 2020-21 and beyond, we anticipate a continued ten year pattern of underfunding K-12 education. The State’s current funding model, where the State controls the district’s authority to increase property taxes rather than the school board, limits the community of Madison’s ability to invest in schools in line with our community values. 

    • Going to referendum allows the community to take local control back from the State. MMSD estimates that the current State funding model for public education could lead to over $30M in MMSD classroom budget cuts over the next 3 years, which would impact teacher positions and student programming. A balanced budgeting approach for the future will require both resource reallocation and strategies to increase revenue. 

    • An operating referendum would provide $33M over four years that would support current staffing levels and continue the district's equity investments in line with the Strategic Framework goals and outcomes for all students.

    • The district considers three major factors to determine impact on taxpayers. First, MMSD expects minimal enrollment growth over the next four years, which helps to minimize increases in the tax levy. Second, moderate to strong tax base growth estimates diffuse the impact on existing taxpayers. Third, the district already predicts the maximum loss of State aid each year. Therefore, any increased spending in the district would not increase the loss of State aid. 

    • For the operating referendum question, the board will ask for revenue limit authority of $6M in 20/21, $8M in 21/22, $9M in 22/23, and $10M in 23/24, a cumulative of $33M in revenue limit authority over the next four years.* This is an $80 per year incremental increase over four years for the average home owner in Madison.

    • The successful 2016 operating referendum asked local voters if they would support MMSD increasing property taxes to support the district raising our revenue limit by a cumulative of $26 million over four years in order to protect from changing State funding models that put MMSD at risk of future budget deficits. The 2016 referendum was recurring, which means that this funding does not go away after four years. It remains in the base of the MMSD tax levy. Ultimately, between 2016 and 2019, the MMSD School Board increased taxes by $22 million over this period, only increasing property taxes to the level that was absolutely needed to balance budgets.

    • The 2020 operating referendum will also be recurring. Which means that if passed, it would allow the Board of Education to raise property taxes permanently by up to $33 million cumulatively over the next four years. The increase would be phased in over four years.

    • The specific annual amounts are designed to support operational needs of the district. Without the operational budget support, the district will be required to reduce the number of teachers, administrators, and support staff. The Board of Education will decide annually if all of this authority is needed or if they want to ‘under levy’ as they did in2017-18 and 2018-19.

    • A school district's revenue limit is the maximum amount of revenue that may be raised through state general aid and property tax. In 2016, voters approved permanently raising MMSD’s revenuelimit authority by $26M, phased in over four years. However, the Board of Education used $22M, or 84 percent, of that authority. 2019-20 was the final year of new revenue-limit authority granted by voters in 2016. 

    • $22M of voter-approved revenue limit authority from 2016 was spent directly on instruction (teacher salaries, benefits and other direct instructional expenses) and services to students (student programming and other direct support not directly related to instruction). ). This is the area where many of our previously described strategic equity investments would be categorized. Spending on general administration services—the district’s central office function—has remained flat. A slight increase in building administration services, or our facility budget, came from the closure of tax increment districts (TID).

    • Over the last four years, the Board of Education prioritized educators and equity when investing the district’s resources. In order to attract and retain high-quality staff in a highly competitive marketplace, the board increased starting salaries and provided salary increases at or above the cost of inflation. The Board also invested in student support services and programming to support the equity goals in the MMSD Strategic Framework. Over the last four years, the board allocated $42 million to these top priorities, and nearly half of that funding was re-purposed from within our operating budget. For example, the district shifted from a three-year to a four-year technology replacement cycle to free up funds for instruction and student services. 

    Strategic equity investments over the last four years included:

    • Reducing K-3 class sizes in high-poverty elementary schools

    • “Grow Our Own” programs designed to increase the diversity of the MMSD teaching workforce

    • Expansion of our mental health support for students

    • Restorative justice and wellness/mindfulness programs

    • Increasing the number of counselors, psychologists, and behavioral education assistants in schools

    • Personalized learning opportunities for post-secondary success focusing on youth of color, young women, and at-risk youth, such as the Early College STEM Academy and Capital High School

    • Black Excellence Coalition member-recommended investments aimed at meeting the social-emotional and academic needs of Black youth

    • Family and community engagement resources in schools

    • Mentoring programs for youth 

    • Increased special education staffing and training 

    These investments in our students and staff would not have been possible without the 2016 operating referendum. MMSD and the Board of Education are grateful to our community for its commitment to supporting our children and public schools.

    • $22M of voter-approved revenue limit authority was spent directly on instruction (teacher salaries, benefits and other direct instructional expenses) and services to students (student programming and other direct support not directly related to instruction). This is the area where many of our previously described strategic equity investments would be categorized. Spending on general administration services—the district’s central office function—has remained flat. A slight increase in building administration services, or our facility budget, came from the closure of tax increment districts (TID).

    • Due to COVID-19, it is unclear if the state will increase aid in 2020-21 and beyond.  

    • All school districts in Wisconsin operate under a fixed funding formula for revenue; it is simply a set dollar amount per student multiplied by the number of students, which yields a number that is the maximum funding with which the district can operate that year (e.g., 100 students X $10,000 per student = 1M). The revenue to provide the set funding amount ($1M in our example) comes from two sources, State Equalization Aid and local property taxes. If State aid goes up, property taxes can decrease. 

    • If State aid goes down, local property taxes must increase to yield maximum funding. Only the blend of percentage of revenue coming from State Equalization Aid and local property taxes changes, the maximum funding amount does not change. Therefore, if additional funds are necessary to operate, an additional source of revenue, in this case an operating referendum, must be identified.

    • Even though the State increased the total amount of State aid in the 2019-21 budget, the funding formula is such that MMSD lost 15%, or $6.5 million, from last year to this year. This funding formula is driven by an equalized measure of property value. Because Madison is growing in property value, Madison is penalized in the current aid funding formula.

    • Through the state budget process, the legislature establishes a limit, or control, on the revenue a school district is entitled to receive each year from property taxes and state aid. Over the past ten years, these controls have become increasingly restrictive. Today, Wisconsin public schools operate with less revenue authority per pupil than in 2008. However, school districts are allowed a local option to increase local school district revenues through a voter-approved referendum.

    • The operating referendum asks voters for authority to increase property taxes to generate revenue. Each year through the budget process, the Board of Education decides how much revenue authority to use. The Board did not use it’s full revenue authority approved in 2016. In order to control property taxes, it under levied by $4M.

    • The Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction (DPI) determines and publishes these numbers each year. With all adjustments made, our revenue limit per member maximum for 2019/20 is $12,749. This amount of funding is not all passed on to taxpayers, as the State provides us with some general/equalization aid that is deducted from this number. Additionally, there are other expenses included in the overall property tax levy which are not tied to a per pupil cost according to DPI, such as the Community Fund, which supports the entire community in the City of Madison. More information on the revenue limit formula

    • If we are not able to increase our operating budget, we will not be able to keep up with cost of living and inflation costs. This could have a direct impact on our ability to retain and attract high quality teachers, it would also likely increase our student to teacher staffing ratios.  Eighty-seven percent (87%) of our budget is related to our staffing costs in support of students We would not be able to close budget gaps without affecting our workforce.

    • The facilities referendum will fund renovation of the four main high schools, the transfer of Capital High West and Capital High East to one district-owned facility, and a new elementary school in the Rimrock area. It is clear and straightforward. 

    • An operating referendum, on the other hand, is complex and can be confusing. Along with a request for the ability to raise the revenue limit, one might expect a tangible list of things that that money would purchase or fund. Unlike the facilities referendum that seeks funds to pay for concrete items like building renovations, the operating referendum funds would be available for use to help keep our 50 schools operating, to move with the ever-changing educational landscape post COVID-19, and to support equity programs that directly support students. In other words, if the referendum passes, it will allow us to continue the services and supports we are currently providing to students, without having to cut student programs and large numbers of staff, and it would also help us move big equity shifts, like full-day 4K and closing the technology divide, forward to ensure a bright future for our students.

    • The funds would be built into our budget each year and used to fund things like:

    • Continuing and expanding strategies that have begun to narrow achievement gaps in line with the Strategic Framework, such as supporting the Black Excellence Coalition Fund, Grow Your Own diversity hiring strategies, and increasing opportunities for youth of color and women like the Early College STEM Academy.

    • Avoiding reductions in our staff and teaching workforce

    • Hiring and retaining the very best teachers, with a focus on diversifying our workforce to better reflect our diverse student population

    • While this answer is multi-faceted, it’s probably most straightforward to state it this way: in a recurring referendum, if passed, the Board of Education would be able to levy that additional amount of funding ($33M over four years) forever, without going back to the community each year for permission to exceed the revenue limit. The Board still could not go over the amount approved by voters, essentially the district receives a new revenue limit. Which begs the questions -- will the Board of Education exercise this option and will taxes increase? 

    • That depends on a few factors and how they change over time including the revenue limit (the maximum amount of revenue that may be raised through the State of Wisconsin general aid and property taxes as set by the State of Wisconsin) and costs to operate (Cost of Living Adjustment based on the increase in the Consumer Price Index from the third quarter of one year through the third quarter of the next year, changes in insurance rates, etc.). We do not know at this time if and/or how often the Board of Education would be in a position to need to exercise the full authority to levy that the voters could give them, but if the operating referendum passes, they would have the authority to do so. Strategic budget decisions are made by the Board of Education through the annual budgeting process. You can read more about our budget process and see past budgets at mmsd.org/budget.

    General and Historical Questions

    • For both the operating and facilities referenda together, the average annual tax impact will be about $480 for the average homeowner in year 4 (the average home value in Madison is $311,000).

    average home impact bar chart

    • In year four, the mill rate (tax rate per $1,000 in home value) would be estimated to increase by $1.51.

  • Madison Metropolitan School District Example Financing Plan, 2020 Referendum

    • Madison has historically strong real estate values, including new construction activity, that have expanded the tax base and that help offset the tax impact for existing property owners; however, over those years the property values in Madison are also increasing. No matter the MMSD property tax rate, rising property values would cause taxes to increase as they are increasing at a faster pace than the new construction activity has grown the tax base.

    • In the COVID-19 environment, new growth is likely to slow but property value growth is also likely to slow. 

    • Interest rates are at an all time low which will lower facility referendum borrowing costs. 

    • All of the financial figures presented on this page and on referendum materials have been updated to reflect a slower growth in equalized property value as well as lower interest rates.

    • There is no current plan to close any MMSD schools. MMSD has completed a 20-year enrollment study and enrollment is projected to increase by about 1,6000 students in the next 18 years. We anticipate that there may be a need and an opportunity in the future to exercise flexibility in how buildings are used (e.g., organizing by different grade levels) to maximize facilities and meet students’ and families’ needs. For additional detail, see the Long Range Facilities Plan here: accountability.madison.k12.wi.us/building-excellence  

  • Yes. MMSD is currently leasing a site for Nuestro Mundo Community School and a site for Capital High West.

    • Nuestro Mundo has outgrown the capacity of the current leased Monona location, limiting its ability to grow and meet the demands of the community. Additionally, the leased space has caused challenges to school operations, including limiting investments to the building and playground. MMSD has always envisioned Nuestro Mundo in a district-owned building within the City of Madison. It is anticipated that a new elementary school in the Rimrock area could become the new home for Nuestro Mundo Community School or the new home for Allis Elementary School students. Either way, MMSD would have additional space and no longer need to lease space. This would result in an annual savings of approximately $177,485.

    • The leased Capital High West location is over capacity (designed for 60 students and currently holding 87), expensive, and limits our ability to make investments that support instruction. Capital High’s lease expires in 2020 making now the time to find an alternative solution that is better suited for students. With Capital High East and Capital High West moving into one, MMSD-owned facility, MMSD will save $114,000 annually. 

    The total savings from these two leases would be about $300,000. If the facility referendum passes, the savings from these leases would be used to operate the new school in the Rimrock area.

    • In Wisconsin, public schools are funded by a combination of state dollars and local property taxes. This proposal asks voters to give the local school board authority to exceed the revenue limit authority provided by the state legislature.

    • We believe we have a responsible approach to budget development, repurposing funding to focus on priorities, finding efficiencies, and staying focused on teaching and learning. But even with this smart approach, over time, the State funding approach requires that local community efforts must be undertaken in order to continue to fund public education in line with the Madison community’s values. Learn more about MMSD’s responsible budgeting process in our Budget Book published in June each year and can be found here: https://budget.madison.k12.wi.us/files/bpa/uploads/draft_budget_book_2020-21-updated-june.pdf

    • Wisconsin school districts exist in an environment that is less and less supportive of public education. We are operating under a revenue limit formula designed by state government which sets a limit on the combined total amount of state aid and local taxes a school district may receive each year to operate the schools. Over the past several years, the revenue limit has become increasingly restrictive. With annual revenue growth that does not keep up with the cost of living, school districts must turn to cuts in personnel, programs, and services to students to balance the annual budget. Looking ahead toward the next state budget, we can reasonably predict a continuing pattern of minimal revenue growth resulting in additional school district budget cuts estimated at over $30 million in the next three years.

    • In April 2015, MMSD taxpayers supported a $41M School Bond referendum by an approximately 80% majority vote. The referendum was aimed at addressing some long-deferred maintenance needs across several elementary and middle schools along with some expansion at MMSD's most crowded elementary schools. An April 2015 Referendum Final Project Summary provides information on completed projects. The 2015 referendum was solely about construction at elementary and middle schools. The 2020 referenda include one question about facilities (renovation at the high schools, relocating Capital High East and Capital High West into one facility, and building a new elementary school in the Rimrock area) and one question about operational expenses within the district.

    • In November 2016, MMSD taxpayers supported a $26M recurring operating referendum with a 74% majority vote. The referendum focused solely on the regular annual operating budget of the district. MMSD correctly predicted that revenue allowed by the state (drawn from State Equalization Aid and local property taxes) would grow by less than 1% over the coming years, and gave taxpayers the opportunity to vote on whether or not to raise the district's revenue limit authority above the State-defined limit for the next four years. The 2020 referenda includes one question about renovation, primarily at the high schools and an addition of one elementary school, and one question about raising the district's revenue limit authority above the State-defined limit permanently via a recurring operating revenue question, to provide funds to cover operational expenses within the district.

    • The Board of Education received regular updates on the progress of maintenance projects funded through the April 2015 referendum and the public received regular updates via a referendum website and on social media. An April 2015 Referendum Final Project Summary provides information on completed projects.

    • The 2016 operating referendum was used to help keep our 50 schools operating through a phase of unstable and unpredictable budgets from the State. The referendum allowed MMSD to continue services and supports without having to cut large numbers of staff, increase class sizes, and make deeper and more disruptive cuts in coming years. In addition, the Board invested in a number of strategic equity projects aligned to our Strategic Framework goals.

  • The referendum will be on the Fall Presidential 2020 Election ballot on November 2, 2020 in the Madison Metropolitan School District attendance area. You can find your polling location here or call 1-866-VOTE-WIS.

I still have questions. How can I learn more?

You are welcome to send your questions or feedback by emailing referendum@madison.k12.wi.us.