Rob Abbott on school funding and the politics of referendums

School District of Fort Atkinson Superintendent Rob Abbott describes the political balancing acts involved with asking voters for their support in referendums to increase local taxes for education.

By Zac Schultz | Here & Now

April 2, 2024 • South Central Region

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Rob Abbott:
We've worked hard to be as apolitical as possible, and it's not to our benefit to align, you know, one way or the other, but certainly the dichotomy societally is not playing to our favor. So, it difficult to talk about complex financial issues with people anyway, but then when you have to work from the premise that they already have a preconceived notion that we are politically motivated or that we're responding to what we did or didn't get from Madison is a hurdle that can get pretty tall pretty quickly. Another piece of this that I believe is relatively new, certainly for us, but I know of other districts as well, is the uptick in municipal referendums. And so in our case, we had the city pass a safety referendum a couple of years ago, which had an impact to people's tax bill. And I know in another municipality nearby, the same thing happened. So I think there's a bit of referendum fatigue and it's equated to a larger tax bill in many cases. You know, it's complicated when we get into school finance, but then when people try to compare it to municipal finance, that's equally complicated, but in a very different way. It really promotes the idea that we're not always being transparent or we're not always being clear, or that if people can't do the math on a tax bill that we're hiding something. And those complexities really make it hard for us to tell a story that people understand and are willing to accept even though it's very, very factual.

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