Referendum FAQs

Q. What is the 2023 Referendum asking for?

A. The 2023 Referendum is called an “operational referendum” requesting permission to exceed the School District’s revenue limit by levying a tax to be used for operating expenses beginning with the 2023-2024 school year.

Q.   What is a revenue limit?

A. The revenue limit is a State law (Section 121.91 Wisconsin Statutes) imposed on all Wisconsin school districts beginning in 1993.  It limits the amount of revenue a school district receives from property taxes and state aid.  This revenue is used to pay the school district’s operating budget expenses.  The revenue limit is calculated each year using each school district’s September enrollment count.  In addition, legislative changes are made to the law during each State Biennial Budget process which impacts all school districts’ revenue.  For example, six out of the last eight years, the law did not allow school districts a per pupil revenue increase. The law requires school districts to ask district residents to increase revenues, through an operational referendum, for permission to “exceed the revenue limit.”

Q.  Why is the District having a referendum at this time?

A. The amount of revenue the School District of Cambridge was allowed under the revenue limit calculation this budget year to pay operating expenses was 2.1% more than the amount of revenue the District received ten budget years ago. The revenue limit law does not adjust for the School District’s annual rising operating costs. In addition, certain programs and staffing are supported by grants that will no longer be available to the District. The 2023 Referendum will provide funding to sustain operating expenses including for school safety and security, maintaining class sizes, curriculum and technology updates.

Q.   What does “recurring” mean?

A. The word “recurring” means on-going and does not expire. Revenue approved by referendum is added to the School District’s revenue limit beginning with the 2023-2024 school year and remains as part of the revenue limit on-going. The 2.4 million "recurring" dollars provide the District with statutory authority to levy up to the $2.4 million dollars when needed to sustain district operations. Depending on financial conditions the District may not need to levy that full amount.

Q.   How will the District know if they do not need to levy up to the full amount?

A. Annually at the Budget Hearing/Annual Meeting, the budget is presented and a resolution to approve the tax levy to fund the proposed budget for the school year, and the mill rate necessary to levy that amount is before the School District of Cambridge. Community members are welcome and encouraged to attend the Annual Meeting and Budget Hearing to engage in discussion.

Q.  If the School District receives more state aid, does that mean the District has more revenue?

A.  No. The revenue limit controls how much revenue a school district is allowed each year.  State aid is determined each year under a State formula that considers the district’s operating expenses, enrollment and property valuation. The State notifies the School District of how much of the revenue is coming from the State and the remainder comes from local property taxes. State aid is used for property tax relief and not as additional revenue for the school district.  If a district receives more aid, taxes go down. If a district receives less aid, taxes go up.  Neither scenario gives the district more revenue.  The State aid formula is subject to legislative changes every two years as part of the State’s Biennial Budget.

Q. What will the 2023 Referendum tax levy revenue be used for?

A.  The 2023 Referendum will provide tax levy revenue for operating expenses as follows:

  •   Curriculum updates – math, reading, science and social studies

  • Technology updates – 1-to-1 personalized learning

  •   School based budgets – learning materials for students

  •  Maintaining class sizes

  •   Maintaining school programming and school safety measures

  •  Employee retention and recruitment of high-quality staff

  •  Professional staff development

  •  Sustaining programs and staff no longer receiving ESSER (COVID relief) Grant funding

  • Offsetting rising Consumer Price Index costs

  •  Transportation contract increases

  •   Rising energy costs

  • Facilities projects – roof and parking lot repairs, Nikolay Middle School heating and cooling system repairs

Q.   What is the $1 million shortfall?

A.  Between March of 2020 and 2021, Congress passed three stimulus bills that provided over $2.3 billion under the Elementary and Secondary Emergency Education Relief Fund (ESSER) to school districts in Wisconsin. These funds provided emergency financial assistance to address the impact that COVID-19 has had, and continues to have, on elementary and secondary schools. The ESSER grant funds were received over four budget years and included restrictions on the timing and expenditure of funds.  The School District of Cambridge received a total of $968,424 of ESSER funds, which are required to be spent by September 30, 2024. After the ESSER funds are spent, the District’s programs and staffing supported by ESSER will no longer have funding.  

Q.  How were the ESSER Grant funds spent?

A. ESSER 1 funds received in 2020 ($57,863) funded hotspots for remote learning, personal protective equipment, hand sanitizer, cleaning supplies, bus sanitation, medical supplies, data process and trailer rental.  ESSER 2 funds received in 2021 ($359,080) funded a school psychologist, special education teacher, Chromebooks, interactive display boards, SAN Server, cleaning supplies and bus sanitation.  ESSER 3 funds received in 2022 ($551,481) funded reading and math intervention teachers, intervention curriculum to address learning loss, professional development, phone system replacement for increased safety measures, Chromebooks, CES Poured-In-Place Playground surface to promote accessibility for all students, and to continue funding school psychologist and special education teachers added during ESSER 2.

Q.  What is the Cambridge School District’s student enrollment?

 A. For the past three school years, the September student headcount for all Cambridge Schools   was 921, 916 and 923, respectively. Under the current revenue limit formula, the Cambridge School District is not a declining enrollment district.

Q. What is the current classroom size at each school and how do they compare with similarly size schools in our State?

A. Each school district establishes class sizes based on individual circumstances such as community population, school district facilities, demographics, transportation, needs of  students with disabilities, economically disadvantaged students, and English language learners.

 Typical class sizes are: 

  • 4K class size – 15 and under

  • K – 3rd grade class size– under 20

  • Grade 4 – 5 class size – under 24

Q. Besides the core subject offerings in math, reading, science, English, foreign language, history, music, art, physical education, vocational classes, what “different offerings” does the Cambridge School District offer that other similarly sized districts don’t?

A.  The Cambridge School District offers the following:

  •  The Cambridge Activities Program (CAP) offers affordable and enriching programming for all ages.

  • Outdoor and Agricultural Learning Spaces - as a rural community, the Cambridge School District includes enriching and exceptional  learning opportunities that utilize the natural resources and a farmstead within the local community.  The outdoor and agricultural learning spaces include:

    •  Severson Learning Center offers:

      • Outdoor/environmental learning spaces

      • On-site summer school courses

      • Community wellness events

    • Elementary School Forest and School Garden

    • Farm to School Programming:  Includes Chef in the Classroom at multiple schools

    • Koshkonong Trails Charter School, a project and place based learning school

Q. What specific cost saving measures has the District taken and could take, while still preserving a quality education for all students, but taking into account the rising cost of living and increased spending in other municipal categories for all taxpayers?

A. The Cambridge School District has implemented the following cost saving measures:

  • Eliminated administrator position

  • Eliminated classroom teacher positions

  • Pursued grant applications and opportunities

  • Completed energy savings infrastructure project to mitigate rising energy costs

  • Prepaid existing referendum approved debt eliminating five years of interest costs

Q. My recent tax bill showed a significant increase in school district taxes.  Why can’t the District use this money instead to address the operating budget needs without having to go to a referendum?

A. Recent tax bills included $1,780,000 of School District taxes levied to pay off the remaining debt associated with a facilities improvement referendum approved by voters in 2012.  Under the law, this money can only be used to pay off the referendum approved debt owed to bondholders in 2023.  These tax dollars cannot be used to pay operating expenses.  In 2023, all of the District’s referendum approved debt will be paid off, saving taxpayers $114,510 of interest, and no taxes can be included in future tax bills for referendum approved debt. The $2,400,000 for the 2023 Referendum will be used to pay operating expenses beginning with the 2023-2024 school year.

Q. How will my tax bill be impacted by the 2023 Referendum?

A. The 2023 Referendum tax impact begins with the December 2023 tax bill and remains in tax bills thereafter. The tax levy amount for the 2023 Referendum is $2,400,000, and the tax impact is calculated as follows:

  •   $2,400,000  include tax levy for the 2023 Referendum to pay operating expenses

  •   ($1,780,000) remove tax levy included in the December 2022 tax bill for debt

  • $   620,000  of additional tax levy impact will begin with the December 2023 tax bills and remain in tax bills thereafter.

The additional amount of $620,000 is a tax levy increase as compared to December 2022 tax bills. This increase is calculated as an estimated tax rate impact of $0.77 per $1,000 of fair market property value determined by the Wisconsin Department of Revenue (not assessed value determined by local assessor) as shown on December 2022 tax bills.

Q. What is the history of the mill rate in Cambridge

A.The mill rate decreased each of the last 7 years, this is the rate fair market property values are taxed. The District worked hard to control tax increases to taxpayers.

Q. How are surrounding school districts controlling costs?

A. Funding challenges are happening statewide. In the past year, 13 out of 16 school districts in Dane County have asked voters to exceed the revenue limit with an operational referendum. 

Q. Can the District use its fund balance to fill funding gaps?

A. Fund balance is the difference between the district's assets and liabilities at a point in time. A common misconception is that fund balance is a cash account that corresponds to the district's bank balance. It would be financially shortsighted to deplete fund balance to cover significant, ongoing, and recurring expenses. Maintaining an appropriate fund balance can save significant money, as it reduces the need to engage in short-term borrowing. Having a stable fund balance also enables the district to maintain a strong credit rating.

Additional Referendum Information