Gillett schools to ask for $1.8M for next three years

Referendum being asked due to inflation, ris
Luke Reimer

The Gillett School District is going back to referendum, in order to ask for $600,000 a year for the next three years in a non-recurring referendum on Nov. 8.

“The overarching goal is to continue the services and programs that we currently have that our students and community deserve,” said Gillett Superintendent Todd Hencsik. “It isn’t to build something shiny or something new. It is just to continue offering our services and programs.”

The school district tried to pass a referendum for $450,000 a year earlier this year, but it was voted down by district voters.

“There is a multitude of reasons why that failed,” said Hencsik. “Inflation and cost of living increases, where our taxpayers got hit, was a shock. I think the overarching piece to it, was low voter turnout.”

According to Hencsik, in the previous successful referendum, close to 2,000 voters went to the polls.

“This last time, we were just a little over 800,” said Hencsik. “Our goal would be to make sure we are better educating our community on the why behind it.”

Hencsik explained that due to inflation and rising costs in Wisconsin and in the country, the school board felt it necessary to ask for $150,000 more than the previous referendum.

“When we originally put that ($450,000) in, inflation hadn’t hit us,” said Hencsik. “Had we passed it at $450,000, we would still be looking at a deficit. What we are doing is hedging our bets. Three years prior, we asked for $600,000, but only used on average $450,000. We are making that promise — we can levy for $600,000, but we are only going to levy for what we need. We are not going to ask for anything more than we need.”

He added that the goal is for the school district to continue functioning efficiently at the current level.

“This is to pay our bills, to keep everything going, to keep our services going and to keep everything else that you are accustomed to having here in Gillett up and running,” said Hencsik. “The reason that we need to go to referendum, and why rural school districts need to go to referendum, is because we are heavily aided by the state. The state froze the revenue limits in 2020. If your pay is frozen at home, bills continue to rise. Now that we are hitting this inflation at 8%, we need this extra money, because we are not getting it from the state.”

According to Hencsik, 54% of Gillett’s budget comes from the state, while just 26% comes from local taxes.

“We are a property-poor district, defined by the Department of Public Instruction,” said Hencsik. “So, our money comes from the state. When they freeze that, we have to look at deficits and how we can fill them.”

After the referendum failed earlier this year, Hencsik said that the school district relied on ESSER funds, which came as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, to shift money around and to continue to run normally.

“That money is gone after this year,” said Hencsik. “We have spent or earmarked that money to keep operations the way that they are. If we do not pass the referendum, then we will have to make more cuts. We made cuts this year. We cut a couple staff members, a bus route and some other services.”

He added that one of the services that was affected was building and grounds.

“We shifted deferred money from our building and grounds budget just to try to get close to making ends meet,” said Hencsik. “If you defer maintenance on your property at home, at some point that bill is going to come due. This is something that we don’t want to continue to do.”

Finally, Hencsik said that he wants the community to know that the school district is educating students by the “values of the community.”

“We want to help them understand that we are all in this together,” said Hencsik. “A good school district goes a long way to selling our community, bringing more people into our community and strengthening our city. We are going to get out there and get our message out and our why out there, for people to make an educated decision on whether they are going to vote in favor or not. We are hoping that people will support our school district and see our value in the Gillett community.”