Stroebel’s measure would limit school referendums to the regularly scheduled fall and spring election dates, when voter turnout tends to exceed that of special elections. In addition, it would bar districts from going back to the taxpayers with a new referendum for two years after one fails.
In Wisconsin, school districts are restricted in what they can raise property taxes every year. The exception is that the district can ask the voters through a referendum to approve a property tax increase above the limit. In general, I support this process. It prevents a rogue board from jacking up taxes too much, but allows individual districts to increase their taxes if the voters expressly approve.
The problem is that too many school districts have abused the process. Instead of waiting for normal election days, they have held special elections to suppress voter turnout while district employees flooded the polls. They have also asked the voters multiple times – over and over again – to raise their taxes. They do this because they know that all they need to get a “yes” vote once regardless of how many times the voters have said “no” before that.
Stroebel’s reforms would still allow districts to ask the voters to exceed state-imposed limits on property tax increases, thus preserving local control, but force school boards to put together a valid justification the first time instead of throwing referendum after referendum against the wall until something sticks. Also, making the districts schedule the referendum elections for the same day as normal elections is perfectly reasonable and encourages higher voter turnout. There is nothing so urgent in a school referendum as to warrant a special election.