What Happens if No?

There are several changes that would have to be considered if the referendum does not pass:

  • Staff reduction and further cuts
  • Larger class sizes or combining grades
  • Longer bus routes
  • Loss of institutional programs like Outdoor Education and afterschool programs
  • School Closure or merger

So why do each of these towns have their own schools?  A little history…

Our communities have always had their own schools. Through the years, each community valued and supported their hometown school and enjoyed the control and flexibility this provided. Municipal taxes were established and each community supported their local school and now our tax rate, assessed property value, and state aid are how we fund our schools. These schools have become centers of the communities – not only educating our children, but also serving as gathering places, providing family and community programming and often brining diverse groups of people together to work on a common project.

Why don’t we just combine schools?

Loss of Identity and Control

These schools serve very different communities (i.e. Sharon serves an rural and agricultural community, Walworth support a more diverse business and commerce platform, Reek serves a broad and diverse geographical area and Fontana is heavily influenced by its location on Geneva Lake, for example). These are not cookie cutter communities with different priorities, resources and needs.

Higher Taxes

Education in Wisconsin through high school is financed heavily by local revenues which in turn rely strongly on the general property tax. Property tax is based on the property’s market value rather than benefits received, and must consequently fall uniformly on all taxable property.

Remember, each of these communities have different assessed property values and different reliance on state aid. Fontana merging with another school district would almost certainly mean HIGHER TAXES for Fontana in-district residences. In Fontana, we enjoy one of the lowest mill rates in the area – see chart below.

School District 2021 Mill Rates Portion of that Mill Rate that is school district-specific Under current elementary district levy?
Fontana $13.56 $3.28 Yes
Walworth $24.10 $7.76 Yes
Sharon $30.41 $11.60 Yes
Reek $13.27* $3.24 Yes
Williams Bay** $19.74* $10.99 Yes

$1.00/$1000 of assessed value

* It’s important to note that these school districts carry a large amount of debt due to recent school improvements, which means more of the school’s funding goes toward debt service, not towards educating students.

Sources: https://www.co.walworth.wi.us/ArchiveCenter/ViewFile/Item/270

Merging nearby BFHS schools would substantially raise taxes in Fontana. Other factors also need to be considered like bus route times (with larger, combined districts students will be on the bus for longer periods), larger class sizes, state-aid and more.

Negative Home Values

Consolidation also has a negative impact on home values. Take, for instance, the consolidation of schools in upstate New York:

“This paper explores the impact of school district consolidation on house values based on house sales in upstate New York State from 2000 to 2012. By combining propensity score matching and double-sales data to compare house value changes in consolidating and comparable school districts, we find that, except in one relatively large district, consolidation has a negative impact on house values during the years right after it occurs and that this effect then fades away and is eventually reversed. This pattern suggests that it takes time either for the advantages of consolidation to be apparent or for the people who prefer consolidated districts to move in. Finally, as in previous studies, the long-run impacts of consolidation on house values are positive in census tracts that initially have low incomes, but negative in high-income census tracts, where parents may have a relatively large willingness to retain the non-budgetary advantages of small districts.”

Source: Duncombe, W. D., Yinger, J., & Zhang, P. (2016). How Does School District Consolidation Affect Property Values? A Case Study of New York. Public Finance Review, 44(1), 52-79.

Other research also supports this negative impact:

“When two internally homogeneous communities decide to jointly provide a public service, residents of each community lose some control over the public service provision. The loss of control over public schooling provision contributes to a $2,929 or 3.5 percent drop in constant-quality house value. Increased heterogeneity of the consolidated district is responsible for almost all the drop; the increased number of service recipients alone is responsible for almost none of the drop. The spatial hedonic, corrected for sample selection bias, also suggests economies of scale gains from school district consolidation must be worth at least $3,369 – 4 percent of house value.”

Brasington, D. M. (2004). House Prices and the Structure of Local Government: An Application of Spatial Statistics. Journal Of Real Estate Finance And Economics, 29(2), 211-231.

Parental Involvement

Consolidation can lead to a bigger, less personal school which effects can be felt outside the classroom:

“One effect of redistricting may be that, by making it harder for parents to get involved, it harms the quality of schools. It also makes it more difficult for students to participate in after-school activities relative to the case where they can walk to and from the school. We refer to this as the ‘‘neighborhood schools effect’’ of redistricting. Because the neighborhood schools effect reduces the quality of the schools, it leads us to expect to find a negative relation between sales prices of houses and school redistricting… This paper has presented evidence on a familiar question, the relation between local public schools and house prices. Our main result is that disrupting neighborhood schools reduces house values by 9.9%, all else being equal.”

Source: Bogart, W. T., & Cromwell, B. A. (2000). How much is a neighborhood school worth?. Journal of urban Economics, 47(2), 280-305.

Why don’t we just allow the school to close?

Research shows a negative correlation between school closures and property values, while the findings on school consolidations are mixed-to-negative, depending on variables.

Take, for instance, the sudden closure of a Malcom Price Laboratory School (MPLS) in Cedar Falls, Iowa. This school wasn’t closed due to underperformance, but rather as a result of lack of funding. Researchers show that the closure of this school had an immediate and lasting impact on property values in that community:

“We find that the closure of MPLS had a negative effect on house prices within the attendance zone. Depending on model specification, the school’s closure reduced house values by 6.8% to 7.2%, or between $8,981 and $9,509 (2006$) at the mean house value. In other words, our results are consistent with the proposition that the MPLS option had value beyond that measured by standardized test scores. These results have important implications for policymakers as they weigh the benefits and costs of maintaining, closing or consolidating public schools. Further, for researchers interested in modeling the effects of schools on house values, our results suggest that a school-related hedonic analysis should recognize the potential value above and beyond any effect associated with standardized test scores (e.g., neighborhood amenity value).”

Source: Rosburg, A., Isakson, H., Ecker, M., & Strauss, T. (2017). Beyond Standardized Test Scores: The Impact of a Public School Closure on House Prices. Journal Of Housing Research, 26(2), 119-135.