Petitioners want school levy set at last year’s level

By Jennifer Eisenbart

Staff writer

Think that the issue of the Burlington Area School District tax levy was decided a month ago?

Think again.

At least a handful of the people who showed up to vote against the proposed levy increase at the annual meeting in August circulated a petition, getting 172 signatures – more than the required number (100) to force a special meeting.

The petition asks for a special meeting to be set for Oct. 28 – which would meet the statutory requirement for two notices to be published – to allow the district residents another chance to vote on the tax levy.

This time, though, the petition specifically asks that the levy be set at $19.65 million – the same as for the 2010-11 school year.

However, according to state law, the vote is still non-binding, meaning the School Board still has the right to set the levy where it deems appropriate to operate the school system for the 2011-12 school year.

A similar situation occurred August when voters at the annual meeting rejected the proposed levy, but the School Board approved it anyway at a later meeting. In that instance electors failed to approve a levy, which meant the duty fell back to the School Board.

The petition for a new vote of residents at a meeting of electors reads as follows:

“We the undersigned qualified electors of the Burlington Area School District petition the school district clerk to call a Special Meeting on Oct. 28, 2011, at 7 p.m. Due to the unfinished business of the qualified electors approving of a tax levy this meeting is to vote on the resolution for approval, ‘Be it hereby resolved by the electors of the Burlington Area School District duly assembled this 28th day of October, 2011, that the sum of $19,646,169.00 be raised by direct tax on the property of the district for general school purposes for the ensuing year.’ The sum of $19,646,169.00 will allow the levy to remain the same as the 2010-2011 school year. This petition is given pursuant to S.120.08 (2) of the Wisconsin Statutes.”

What that actually translates to for the district remains to be seen. There are numerous variables still to be factored in – not the least of which being the fact that final levy won’t be set until the state aid numbers come in during the next week.

The tax levy will essentially make up the different between the state aid and proposed budget for 2011-12. However, that budget was set in June, before a revolt took place at the Aug. 22 annual meeting, where voters said no to the tax levy increase on a 153-115 vote.

In a special meeting three days later, the School Board voted to keep the levy (and budget) as proposed, saying the actually increase per household would likely be less because of the ending of a tax incremental finance district in the City of Burlington, and because the tax levy increase was the district “clearing out” the amount it had under-levied in past year.

That amount, district officials contend, must be cleared out for the district to receive a per-student increase in funding of $50 next year.

Roger and Julie Koldeway, who are at the heart of the petition movement, said they want the School Board to listen to the same taxpayers who they say have told them they do not want a tax increase.

“The taxpayers we spoke to seemed to have this amount (the zero percent increase on the tax levy) as a consensus,” they said in a written response to questions from a reporter. “We want to ensure that the school board is doing everything they can to reduce the taxation.

“With the conversations we have had with the board members and administrators, we believe that they are following the pre-annual meeting plan,” they added. Moyer said Tuesday that he was waiting to hear from the district’s attorney before making any in-depth comments.

“It’s something that citizens chose to do,” Moyer said. “We’re in the process at this point to make sure we have the appropriate response.

“This is a very delicate thing for us.”