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By LeAnn R. Ralph
COLFAX — A one-percent state-wide sales tax devoted to education funding could reduce the need for school district referendums, said William C. Yingst Jr., district administrator for the Colfax school district.
Yingst talked about the penny sales tax as part of the discussion at the December 16 Colfax Board of Education meeting regarding resolutions that will come up during the Wisconsin Association of School Board’s convention at the end of January.
The one percent sales tax is not part of this year’s resolutions and has been voted down before, he said.
Iowa has been doing the penny tax for 10 years and recently extended the sales tax for 30 years to 2059, Yingst said, noting that Iowa has a Republican legislature and a Republican governor.
The school superintendent for the Hudson school district is from Iowa and is campaigning for the sales tax here, he said.
Initial calculations indicate the sales tax would generate between $900 and $1,200 in extra funding per pupil throughout the state, Yingst said.
The extra funding would mean school districts could replace their buses on a regular schedule and could replace roofs and do other maintenance projects as part of the budget cycle, which would mean fewer referendum questions for taxpayers, he said.
The counties have been pushing for a 1 percent sales tax, too, said Ken Bjork, school board member.
Yingst said he had talked a while back to Todd Berry, the retired president of the Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance, and had asked “how do you keep the politicians from taking the money?”
Yingst has a good reason for asking that question.
Several years ago, the state of Wisconsin encouraged school districts to do energy efficiency projects that would help school districts save money on heating and electricity costs. Part of the deal was school districts were required to document how much money they were saving. Several years later, the state Legislature decided to reduce the amount of state aid to school districts by the amount of money the districts were saving on heating and electricity costs.
The idea is the sales tax would be distributed per pupil, so that while larger school districts would get more money, all of the school districts would receive money at the same rate, Yingst said.
Colfax school board member Ken Neuburg is the school district’s assembly delegate at the WASB convention who represents the school district during the discussions and votes on the resolutions presented at the convention.
Of the 17 resolutions that will be considered this year, several of them deal with categorical aid, including one resolution to encourage legislation to repeal and replace the equalization aid payment schedule to quarterly rather than the current two times per year, Neuburg said.
Another of the resolutions deals with mental health training, and several of the resolutions are on what Neuburg said he referred to as “human dignity,” such as not allowing “meal shaming,” in which students are made to feel ashamed because they cannot pay for their school lunches, mandatory training and reporting for human trafficking and a resolution about eliminating Native American mascots.
Here is a brief description of each of the resolutions that will be considered at the WASB convention to be recommended for legislation:
• Clarify that a quorum for the limited purpose of filling school board vacancies is the majority of the actively serving members rather than a majority of the members serving by law. If three members of a seven-member board resign, and one member cannot attend the meeting to appoint new board members, the remaining three are not a quorum by law. Under this recommendation, the remaining three would be a quorum for appointing new members to the school board to replace those who resigned.
• Support the recommendations of the Blue Ribbon Commission on School Funding, as published in January 2019, that align with WASB resolutions. The commission held eight public hearings around the state and two informational meetings in Madison to take testimony about how to better meet the needs of students across the state.
• Support increased weighing of English Learner (EL) pupils in the general school aids and revenue limit formulas or provide categorical aid to support services for all EL pupils in grades 4K to 12.
• Support the payment of equalization aids in four equal installments of 25 percent each in September, December, March and June. With only two payments per year, some school districts must borrow money to help the meet their expenses until their equalization aid payments arrive.
• Support the creation of a state categorical aid program to provide new money aimed at helping school districts with a high poverty rate to help increase attendance and the participation rates of students whose families cannot transport them to or from school or for extracurricular activities.
• Support the development of a guidebook to help school districts formulate policies and practices to provide services for students with dyslexia and related conditions. Testimony indicates parents, teachers and administrators assisting students with dyslexia and related conditions may have difficulty finding information and resources.
• Support legislation that when measuring a school district’s or high school’s improvement on the school district report cards, the DPI cannot include data from a public school located in a youth correctional facility that is located in the school district and operated by the school district, if at least 50 percent of the students are attending for 60 days or less.
• Support creating state categorical aid to provide additional money to school districts to support social and emotional learning for all public school students in grades 4K to 12. Social and emotional learning is the process that allows students to apply the knowledge, attitudes and skills needed for understanding and managing emotion, setting and achieving positive goals, feeling empathy and showing empathy for others, establishing and maintaining positive relationships and making responsible decisions.
• Support legislation, by repealing and recreating WASB resolution 6.065, to create new categorial aid for supporting school-based mental health related services. WASB recommends the state provide a minimum of $25 per student in the first year, $35 in the second year and $50 per student in the third year and for every year after that. The categorical aid could be used for contracting with mental health service providers as well employing a mental health coordinator, an autism coordinator and a behavioral specialist or interventionist.
• Support legislation requiring school districts to retire Native American mascots. The legislation would not require school districts to retire images, statues or other likenesses of historical individuals after whom a school or community is named.
• Oppose “meal shaming” — which includes identifying, stigmatizing or embarrassing school children who have unpaid meal debts since the situation may be completely out of the child’s control. The resolution also calls for opposing legislation requiring schools to provide a fully reimbursable meal to any student who requests a meal, regardless of his or her ability to pay, unless the state provides funding for this mandate.
• Support efforts to increase the number of school social workers, school counselors and mental health providers. WASB would work with the DPI to address existing obstacles to school social work licensing. Some school districts are located far away from universities that confer degrees recognized by the DPI for licensing purposes. Supporters argue the need for school-based services has increased because northwestern Wisconsin has a relative lack of community health providers due, in part, to the state’s low Medicaid reimbursement rate when compared to Minnesota. Providers prefer to locate in Minnesota where they receive higher compensation for providing the same services.
• Support ensuring all teachers and other school employees have adequate training to allow them to identify and report cases of child abuse, child neglect and human trafficking and to be able to work effectively with agencies involved in investigating and providing interventions and services to victims.
WASB also supports legislation that would ensure the DPI provides a training program to assist teachers and others school employees in following state and federal laws in this area.
• Support legislation to create an aid incentive to encourage school districts to enter into whole-grade sharing agreements. State law currently allows two school districts to enter into a whole-grade sharing agreement as a way to reduce costs and to maintain programs. For example, if two school districts had 10 students each in two elementary grades, the school districts could create two classrooms of 20 students each, with one school district hosting one grade and the other school district the other grade., which would eliminate the need for one additional teacher in each school district and could be a way to reduce personnel costs and also a way to deal with teacher shortages.
• Support legislation to allow two or more existing K-12 districts to jointly create a new K-8/union high school district. Wisconsin currently has 10 union high school districts that receive ninth graders from several underlying K-8 districts. Legislation exists to convert K-8/UHS districts into K-12 districts, but no legislation exists for converting K-12 districts into K-8/UHS districts. Forming new K-8/UHS districts would provide an alternative to consolidation and would allow school boards to continue operating their elementary and middle schools but share a combined, regional high school governed by a new union high school board. This would help prevent the problem of younger students being required to ride a bus for extended periods that might result from consolidating sparsely populated rural school districts.
• Support using student poverty as a weighting factor in the state equalization aid formula and revenue limits so that school districts with a disproportionate number of low-income students could receive additional general school aid from the state.
• Support school boards and school districts actively working with organizations that provide extracurricular, co-curricular and club activities to sign a student equity statement that would be enforced. The equity statement would enable all students to participate in a welcoming and respectful environment where hate speech or other actions intended to discriminate against certain students are not tolerated and all forms of diversity are embraced.