Three Lakes School District asking voters for $3 million operating referendum during Nov. 7 electionSubmitted: 11/01/2017
Story By Lane Kimble

Three Lakes School District asking voters for $3 million operating referendum during Nov. 7 election
THREE LAKES - Voters in the Three Lakes School District will see only one thing on their ballots next week, but that one item could decide the future of the schools.

The district is asking taxpayers for an extra $3,092,787 each year for the next five years.  The money would replace an expiring $2,340,000 referendum that passed in 2013, adding about $748,000 to the original amount.

District Administrator Dr. George Karling says the math is simple: Three Lakes has lost more than one-third of its approximately 800 students since 2000. Meanwhile, state law limits how much the district can tax people to make up for those losses.  The district only taxes $5.79 per $1,000 of assessed value, which Karling says is the ninth-lowest in the state.

Karling says if the referendum doesn't pass, it could mean Three Lakes dissolves into other area districts.

"If something happened to the Three Lakes School District that we were no longer in operation, all of our taxpayers are going to be paying more," Karling said. "And it's not going to be for their own schools and they're not going to have a say in what's really happening."

The referendum equates to a $54 dollar increase per $100,000 home over what taxpayers are currently paying. That figure will drop to around $31 per year on the same-valued property when the district's bond used for a new roof is paid off in the 2020-2021 school year.

Voters approved of the 2013 referendum overwhelmingly, with about 76 percent supporting the measure.

Lawmakers in Madison have frustrated Karling over the years, especially after bills discussed earlier in 2017 called for limiting referendums to fall and spring general elections. The bills also threatened to cut state aid for districts that use a referendum for extra operating money, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

"We don't understand why they're doing an about face right now and saying, 'No, we're going to start looking at limiting referendums. That's totally the opposite of what it was when they put it in place," Karling said.

Three Lakes voters approved three referendums since 2003, but Karling says the district has gotten more efficient with how it spends money. The current ballot measure increases collection by 31 percent over the last referendum, compared to about 50 percent with past measures.

Karling says taxpayers should support the referendum whether they have children in school or not because Three Lakes schools offer services for the entire community, like the Fab Lab, fitness center, and pickleball tournaments.

"They tend to understand that when we can get the message to them and that's why we have strong support for our referendums because they understand what's happening, it's something that's beyond our control in the district," Karling said.

The district will hold one final public meeting about the vote this week. People can go to the Monico Town Hall for information at 6 p.m. Thursday.

Voters can head to the following locations on Tuesday, Nov. 7:

Town of Hiles - Vote in the Three Lakes Town Hall
Town of Piehl - Vote in the the Piehl Town Hall
Town of Monico - Vote in the Monico Town Hall
Town of Stella - Vote in the Piehl Town Hall
Town of Sugar Camp - Vote in the Sugar Camp Town Hall
Town of Three Lakes - Vote in the Three Lakes Town Hall

Polls are open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.

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Students and parents have been patiently waiting to hear from local school districts on what classes will look like in the fall.

Last night, the Three Lakes School District flipped the script, they instead took questions from community members to hear their concerns.

Educating is a stressful job, now imagine trying to plan a school year around a global pandemic, and combine that with answering questions from nearly 130 parents in one night. That's a day in Teri Maney's shoes.

"It was truly a listening session...this was laying the groundwork so people have an idea of what we're planning and thinking about at the district," Maney said. 

 Those plans primarily aim to have students back in the classroom full time.

 "That would be our goal to return on site five days a week," she added. 

But with COVID-19 showing no signs of letting up in the U.S. backup plans will be in place for any changes.

"Our next level would be a blended approach," Maney added, "We're keeping our primary focus on elementary students being on site and that might mean for our junior high and high school, a little shift of scheduling."

Three Lakes would then approach any positive cases in the district through guidelines from Oneida and Vilas county health officials.

"We also have a plan for if we would have a positive identification in a grade level, or a teacher, or if there's a teacher. We would not want to shut down the entire district," Maney explained. 

But if things don't go as planned, Three Lakes will be fully prepared for online classes.

"The last level, level four, that would be fully remote instruction."

The school board will vote on Monday night at 6:30 whether or not they will continue with the district's plan. 

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