As the Northland Pines School District goes to referendum next Tuesday in hopes of remaining financially solvent, we hope the voters remember the truth on why districts have been forced into this “survival by referendum” cycle.

It is not the fault of school boards, administrators and local teachers that Pines is seeking authority to exceed state revenue caps by $4.6 million. They are simply playing by the rules established by the Legislature.

Legislators get the blame for tossing school districts into the referendum cycle. It was 26 years ago that they carelessly set a revenue cap of 2.1% but created a Qualified Economic Offer bargaining system that allowed salary and benefit increases of about 4.2% annually.

With the districts’ major budget item growing at twice the rate of the cap, it didn’t take but a decade for most schools to run out of cuts to make or funds to steal from other budget accounts. It was the Legislature, under the guise of accountability to local taxpayers, that created a cycle few districts have escaped.

While the Qualified Economic Offer system has since been repealed and Act 10 has given districts more flexibility in deciding salary and benefits — saving millions of dollars — the state tightened its per pupil spending caps significantly. That move ensures that no matter how frugal districts become, they can’t gain enough levying authority to crawl out of the current cycle.

We have witnessed the enormous effort Pines has made to save money by refinancing loans, creating more efficient schools, cutting personnel, cutting programs, changing health care providers, reducing supplies, eliminating overtime and assessing user fees. Even with a successful referendum, they need to reduce the budget by $496,949 annually for each of the next three school years.

This three-year plan is only $700,000 higher than the previous non-recurring referendum, while the 2016 proposal increased $1.2 million. Voters need to know that a failed referendum would lead to dissolution, loss of local control over education, loss of community pride and identity, and likely higher taxes through annexation to another district. 

Hockey event drew teams from 24 states

Approximately 2,000 hockey players from 24 states converged on Eagle River last weekend for the Labatt Blue/USA Hockey Pond Hockey Championships, one of the best sporting events in Wisconsin.

The incredible 280 teams played about 500 games on 24 rinks that were carved from the snow-covered ice of Dollar Lake. USA Hockey has billed the event as taking “hockey back to its roots,” and those roots are strong in Eagle River — where the first organized hockey game in Wisconsin was played and is home to the state Hockey Hall of Fame.

There are few rural communities in the country that could pull off such a massive and well-organized national event, but it happened here for the 14th year thanks to the Eagle River Fire Department, the Eagle River Recreation Association and Chanticleer Inn.

Behind the editorial ‘we’

Members of the Vilas County News-Review editorial board include Publisher Kurt Krueger and Editor Gary Ridderbusch.