Eau Claire school district discusses referendum target as deadline approaches

·2 min read

Aug. 4—EAU CLAIRE — Potential fall referendum questions could ask Eau Claire school district voters to approve either $71 million or $92 million in new spending over multiple years to pay for building upgrades.

A referendum committee consisting of three Eau Claire school board members made progress Wednesday toward crafting the referendum's language. The full school board will need to approve later this month for it to appear on the Nov. 8 ballot. The board's next scheduled meeting is Aug. 15.

During Wednesday's meeting, the committee circled around the two dollar figures for fall referendums and recommended a focus on building projects, instead of also asking voters to approve new operational spending this fall.

A $71 million referendum would raise the property tax bill on $200,000 home by $88, according to Abby Johnson, the school district's executive director of business services. That would last for 21 years.

A $92 million referendum would raise the same home's tax bill by $108 and would last longer, though no termination date was given.

"We need to keep the question simple and easy to understand, and how can we articulate that, and how do we communicate that with our community to understand what our needs are," Johnson said to the committee on Wednesday.

Among the committee, there was agreement that a referendum specifically for building projects would be best, as opposed to one that would also include money for operational costs.

"I think you have a little more flexibility if we stick to capital," school board member Marquell Johnson said.

Fellow board member Lori Bica agreed.

"I am sold pretty much on the capital-only now," she said.

The committee noted the district is already looking at another potential funding source for operational costs to address learning loss, mental health supports and interventions. Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief funds, a program funded through federal COVID-19 pandemic recovery money, could apply.

Building projects that could be covered by a referendum include major renovations to South Middle School, renovations and expansions to Putnam Heights Elementary, Memorial and North high schools and improvements to several other elementary and middle schools.

"What I think is really appealing about this is that it's simple, and it's explainable and it's understandable," board member Phil Lyons said. "These are the kinds of things we need to do to be able to have a district with the kinds of facilities that we ought to expect in a community of this size and this stature."

The committee was hesitant Wednesday to set any of its recommendations in stone without the input of the full school board. It plans to meet again next week with additional information and extended invitations to the other school board members to give their input.