News, Waterford

WGSD placing $4 million, 5-year referendum on ballot in April

By Dave Fidlin

The Waterford Graded School District is joining a number of its counterparts this spring and placing a referendum spending question on the ballot.

At a special meeting Jan. 15, WGSD board members voted unanimously in favor of pair of resolutions that set the stage for the upcoming question on the April 2 ballot.

WGSD is asking voters for the authority to exceed the state’s tax levy caps by $4 million annually over a 5-year period, beginning with the 2024-2025 school year budget and running through the 2028-2029 school year budget.

The added dollars, if approved by voters, would go toward ongoing operational and maintenance expenses.

Several neighboring districts have already taken steps to place referendums on the ballot in either the spring primary election next month or the general election in April. Waterford Union High School has a facilities referendum on the docket, and school officials in fellow K-8 feeder district Washington-Caldwell have an operational referendum on the ballot.

At the Jan. 15 meeting, WGSD board members had a brief three-minute meeting, swiftly approving both resolutions, one authorizing the district budget to exceed the revenue limit, the other green lighting the forthcoming resolution.

The quick votes came on the heels of a more robust, in-depth discussion Jan. 8 with WGSD administrators and financial analysts who work with the district on a consulting basis.

At the recent meeting, board members deliberated on several different scenarios, including term lengths, whether or not to have a recurring or non-recurring referendum and the actual financial ask of voters.

Ultimately, the plan in motion is a non-recurring referendum, meaning it will sunset in the five-year span of time. Once the referendum funds are exhausted, WGSD officials would have to go back to voters to receive the same level of funding in the 2029-2030 school year budget and beyond.

Superintendent Tony Spence said the board’s vote came after a series of discussions and reviews of the district’s financial condition.

“This isn’t something that happened over a few conversations,” Spence said. “This has very much been an ongoing conversation.”

Several factors were reviewed, Spence said, including WGSD’s short- and long-term operational needs, a desire to replenish cash reserves in the fund balance and financial forecasting.

“At the end of the day, if the fund balance isn’t there, it puts us in a precarious place,” Spence said.

At the Jan. 8 meeting, board members said they wanted to adopt a cautious, conservative approach to the referendum question.

“To me, it really comes back to a funding formula issue,” board member Ryan Koncki said.

”That’s where this is generated, it’s not from reckless spending, it’s not from operating at a level we shouldn’t be. It’s a funding formula problem.”

School Board President Mandy Fiehweg said she and her counterparts are presenting the referendum question to voters with the information available at this time.

“Obviously, these are projections,” Fiehweg said. “We don’t know what’s going to happen in four or five years from now.”

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