Questions & Answers

What are the district’s needs?

Learning matters! In order for students to learn, they need to be physically safe and emotionally secure. They must have access to programs and facilities that support their learning and relevant curriculum that supports their unique learning goals and desired career paths.

In assessing the district’s needs and developing potential solutions, the Board believes it must strive toward achieving three main goals:

  • Strengthen the physical safety of our schools and address the emotional needs of our students
  • Maintain our existing programs and facilities
  • Expand our student learning opportunities and invest in the future

What will the funds be used for?

Over the six years that the funds will be added, we will address the three investment areas included below:

Strengthen the Physical Safety of Schools and Address the Emotional Needs of Students


The safety needs of our students are more of a concern now than ever before. With that in mind, the Board believes it must continue to address student safety. To take care of the students in our community, we will:

  • Develop an annual budget item to specifically improve physical safety needs in our schools. Items that would be addressed each year include:
    • Updating door locks
    • Adding or updating cameras
    • Adding shatter-resistant film to windows and glass doors
    • Updating entry doors to schools
    • Updating alarm systems
    • Creating more secure vestibules
    • Enhancing outside lighting
    • Modifying windows/screens to improve exiting visibility
    • Purchasing safety software, including anonymous reporting systems
    • Expanding the visitor management system to other buildings
    • Continuing to monitor and upgrade safety items each year
    • Include the Safety and Security Program Manager position in the funding to ensure the longevity of the position
  • Provide direct services to students with mental health needs and train staff to identify and assist these students. Positions to be added include professionals to work directly with students, families and staff to address student needs, such as:
    • School counselors
    • Social workers
    • School psychologists

Maintain Existing Programs and Facilities


In 1993, the state of Wisconsin instituted revenue limits for public schools, capping the amount of revenue they could generate between state aid and local taxes. Each district was locked into a revenue limit based on its 1992 financials. Over the years, this has led to considerable inequities in funding from district to district.

The state legislature adjusts the limits every two years. Over the last seven years, the adjustment has averaged to a $50 annual decrease per student—or a cumulative $350 decrease per student since 2011.

The lack of positive growth in revenue limits, combined with slightly declining enrollment, creates the challenging task of providing the best opportunities for students within our budget constraints. Unfortunately, in the 25 years that the limits have existed, we have reduced our capacity to serve our students. You can learn more by viewing the SDSM Finance page. The reductions occurred between 2003 and 2012 due to revenue limit regulations.

Over the years, we have continually worked to develop effective and vibrant programs that meet the needs of students with a variety of career interests. At the same time, our students benefit from having outstanding and well-maintained schools. We will:

  • Ensure that future students can benefit from the same outstanding programs and classes as our current students.
  • Protect the investment taxpayers have made in the district’s facilities through a yearly maintenance replacement budget. For instance, the district currently has a budget to maintain boilers, but does not have a budget to replace them. This is true for all big-ticket items—such as HVAC components, roofs, asphalt, lighting, etc.—that need be replaced on a regular timeframe.

Expand Student Learning Opportunities and Invest in the Future


Just as none of us could have expected how jobs and industry could have changed over the last three decades, we also cannot predict what the next several decades will hold. We will increase academic success and:

  • Offer personalized and innovative learning opportunities that allow students to benefit from additional support and flexible learning opportunities, including:
    • Expanded course options
    • Expanded extracurricular funding (for after-school activities and athletics)
  • Provide additional staffing, including:
    • Staff to increase virtual school options
    • Special education teachers
    • Teachers to provide specific academic support for students, such as teachers who work with students in areas of need or to expand learning
    • Teachers to provide expanded early learning opportunities, such as all-day 4K and other supports for early learners
    • Staff to focus on academic and expanded career options
    • Technology staff to support technology equipment usage and repair
    • Teachers to reduce class sizes
    • Expanding clerical hours to support schools and families

Why are we going to referendum now?

The School District of South Milwaukee has been responsible handling the funds community members have invested in their local schools. However, a state-imposed revenue limit implemented in 1993 has placed the district in a situation in which it has been penalized for its efficient and frugal use of funds in the past.

South Milwaukee receives less revenue on an annual basis than an overwhelming majority of school districts of similar size in the Milwaukee area. While the district has been fiscally expedient over the years, revenues have not kept up with inflation and growing operational costs.

During the years of 2003-2012, the district made numerous reductions to balance the budget. The net reductions included approximately 50 teaching positions throughout the district. Since 2013, the district has been able to evaluate its needs and add a few positions each year. During the referendum consideration process, the district has prioritized the need for new positions to be focused on the social/emotional health of students and student academic learning opportunities.

How has the Board’s past decisions led to the need for a referendum now?

The Board has always been fiscally responsible. The decisions made in 1993 to be frugal and keep property taxes low was a fiscally responsible decision at that time. Unfortunately, other districts were not making those same decisions, creating a perceived need for revenue limits for schools. Instead of addressing the inequity of school budgets, the state locked in those same budgets—creating greater inequity each year thereafter.

What is the Board doing to meet the district’s needs?

To find a solution that balances the needs of the district with those of taxpayers, the Board is seeking to engage the entire school community in a transparent and inclusive way. This process will begin to unfold during the spring and will continue over the next several months. Throughout the process, the Board will share more information about the district’s needs and the process being used to address those needs. Board members will seek input and feedback from our staff and community members.

What is the order of when the specific positions will be added in each year?

All new positions will fit within the areas of safety, addressing the mental health needs of students and expanded learning opportunities. Because funds would flow into the district over the course of six years, it is not possible to list the order of positions at this time. We will evaluate the three investment areas each year, and the Board will decide which positions or investment areas will be added to address the greatest need at that time. The options are outlined in detail above.

Why do we need to expand virtual school options?

Many of our students benefit from virtual school opportunities. As of right now, we do not have a full program for virtual school, which results in students enrolling in virtual schools through Open Enrollment. We would like the opportunity to retain those students, allow them to participate in some South Milwaukee school activities and provide a South Milwaukee High School diploma.

Didn’t the School District of South Milwaukee just pass a referendum?

No. While the City of South Milwaukee passed a referendum in November 2017, the city and school district have been separate entities since the early 1980s. The last referendum passed by the school district was in 2002 for the 6-12 campus.

What will happen if the district cannot meet its financial needs?

Due to the district’s state-imposed revenue limit, the Board has limited options. If the Board cannot find a solution the community can support, the district may need to make additional and deeper cuts to programs and services, impacting the quality of education students receive.

The referendum includes funding for facility maintenance. Why can’t the district do what homeowners do and set aside money for big-ticket items like boilers and roofs?

Due to its low revenue situation, when times have been challenging for the school district financially, the Board has consistently prioritized allocating resources to student learning. What the district currently lacks are funds to address facility-related needs in a systematic way—one that would allow it to better protect taxpayers’ investments.

We could afford to do this when some buildings were new or recently renovated, but even our newest facilities are now at least 14 years old. They need increased maintenance and strategic repairs.

Why can’t the district use the tools provided by 2011’s Act 10 to reduce expenses?

Over the past several years, the district has used the flexibility provided under Act 10 to reduce costs related to personnel and health insurance. It has done so while pursuing additional cost-saving measures by asking more of its staff and teachers. While these efforts have helped and will continue to be used, they have not solved the district’s long-term revenue needs.

Can’t you make some cuts to make up for the money you need?

Although the Board and district leaders have worked very hard to make the most of taxpayers’ investments in their schools, including through the flexibility provided under Act 10, cuts in one area will no longer provide the necessary cost savings to allow the district to address the critical items that have been identified. The district reduced programs and staff by approximately $10 million over 10 years, starting in 2002. Additionally, more cuts to programs and staff would hinder our ability to accomplish our mission and vision of providing a quality education to all students.

Why is it all not being used for safety concerns?

Our first and most important responsibility is to ensure the safety of all students and school district employees. As a result, the district is moving to implement additional safety measures outside the referendum, and we do not want to wait for a referendum to address these issues. Additionally, there are student needs beyond safety concerns that will be included in the referendum. Therefore, while the referendum will include some safety items, most of the pressing safety improvements will be addressed in other ways.

Did South Milwaukee get a school safety grant?

The District received approval from the state for $131,000 to be used for safety upgrades; the upgrades are in progress and are projected to be completed in December 2018. We are actively pursuing a second round of funding this fall.

Will the schools be safer if the referendum passes? How?

The Board and district leaders are continually looking for ways to improve safety in our schools. This includes improving processes, adding technology and making physical changes to school facilities. Additionally, the Board approved a safety manager position for 2017-18 that would continue through referendum funds in future years. While the referendum does include numerous safety measures that will make our schools safer, our schools are already safe places to be.

Will you put doors on the classrooms at Blakewood if the referendum passes?

The district has been adding doors at Blakewood over the last several years. The South Milwaukee Police Department completed a safety walkthrough of all the student-occupied buildings in 2018 that served as the basis of our school safety grant application. The grant was awarded to South Milwaukee in July 2018 and did include interior doors at Blakewood. The doors have been ordered and will be added within the next few months.

Unfortunately, the grant was a limited, one-time source of funding. We know that an ongoing safety budget is essential and adding a security budget through the referendum will allow the district to make physical security updates each year at all our schools. Safety and security is an evolving area that will be carefully monitored and funded through these dedicated funds.

What if the referendum does not pass? Will school, student and safety concerns still be addressed?

Our schools are safe, and the Board and district leaders are working to make them even safer. The Board and district do not want to wait for the passage of a referendum to address the most important and urgent safety measures and are moving on them now. However, the referendum does include a series of important safety measures that, while not as urgent, will allow our already safe schools to become even safer.

Additionally, while our district is providing a quality education for our students, we know that there are additional innovative practices we can use to help all students take that next step toward success.

Is the football field included in the referendum? Why not?

The football field is not included in the referendum. In considering needs and possible solutions, the district uses a process in which all its needs are considered and prioritized on a regular basis. The process took many months and included feedback from staff and community members. While the football field was one of the items under discussion, it was not ranked as a top priority item to be included in a referendum. We anticipate that a majority of the football field renovation will be provided through grants and fundraising.

Will the staff receive raises if the referendum passes?

The referendum does not include specific funds for salary increases.

Will class sizes be smaller?

If the referendum passes, the number of students in some classes will be reduced, as further sections will be added. However, for other classes, we would follow best practices and add other supports to the classroom to ensure students receive more individual attention. In some schools, the availability of classrooms would limit the number of additional class sections. Thus, a more flexible and targeted approach is needed.

Is this enough? Will you be back asking for more later?

Because local school budgets are heavily impacted by state budgets, which are set every two years, it is impossible to predict the district’s needs in the coming years. However, the Board believes that this referendum balances the needs of our students and taxpayers, is prudent and responsible and will address the district’s needs for years to come.

Why are you doing this now instead of when the high school is paid off?

The Board and district leaders wrestled with this question. Ideally, we would wait until the high school debt has been paid before asking community members to vote on this referendum question. However, the district has urgent needs that must be addressed now. Waiting to address these needs would mean turning our backs on the needs of some of our current students—something that we simply cannot do. While the timing is not ideal, the district’s needs are urgent.

When will the community get to vote on this?

The Board approved the referendum question for the November 2018 ballot.

How would a referendum affect my property taxes?

The Board and district have worked hard to offset the impact of a referendum. If the referendum were to pass, the school district’s portion of residents’ tax bills would go up an estimated $11.60 per every $100,000 of assessed property value in 2019. Furthermore, as a result of paying off debt related to the high school, the district portion of tax bills would be less than 2017 taxes starting in 2022.

Please go to this page of the website to learn more about how state revenue limits led to the financial needs in South Milwaukee, in addition to specific details regarding the taxpayer impact of a passed referendum over the course of the next six years. Please see the chart below for yearly details.

What will be the amount of the referendum?

The Board approved a referendum question to the public in the amount of $3.8 million (an estimated $11.60 per every $100,000 of assessed property value for 2019).