On November 8th in Wisconsin, 47 school districts will be going to the voters on 66 referenda seeking approval for additional funding. Because school district referenda have a high likelihood of passage – 77% of referenda passed in the spring 2016 elections – it is critical that voters understand how districts are already spending their money. One way to do this is to look at how school districts are paying teachers.
As we all know, Act 10 provided school districts with important tools to control costs. Among these were the ability to get a handle on teacher salaries and to force employee contributions to cover a portion of fringe benefits like health insurance and retirement. This is similar to the private sector. Currently in Wisconsin the average teacher salary by school district is $51,847 and the average value of a benefits package is $21,502. So, the average value for total teacher compensation is $73,349. To put this in perspective, a 2012 study by AEI researchers found that pension benefits in Wisconsin were still 4.5 times more valuable than private sector benefits for similarly situated workers.
With these tools, taxpayers should expect their districts to take full advantage of these options before any increases in taxes. Using DPI data, I decided to compare teacher salary and fringe benefits for the school districts seeking referendum.
Not surprisingly, of the 47 districts with referenda on Election Day, nearly 22 already compensate teachers above the state average. Some of these districts, listed below, are relatively close to the average benefit level, but several exceed it by multiple thousands of dollars. Arrowhead Union High School exceeds average compensation by more than $20,000 per teacher and is still going to referendum. These districts, along with the total value of their average benefits, are listed in the table below.
Even if we grant that referenda for new facilities are legitimate, more than half of the total referenda on November 8th have other goals. For example, the Monroe School District is asking for $4.5 million to “maintain educational services and programming,” which leaves unclear how additional revenue is required to maintain what is already provided at current revenue levels. In another example, the Iola-Scandinavia district is requesting $2 million for “school improvement programs.”
This data, combined with previous evidence from WILL on the growth in expenditures on school bureaucracy following Act 10, suggests that taxpayers should carefully evaluate each referendum before defaulting to approval. If the teacher marketplace that has been created since Act 10 requires these school districts to have the above-average benefits packages they do in order to compete, asking the taxpayers for additional money may be justified. But requiring school districts to be responsible with taxpayer money, and to use the tools they have been provided under Act 10, is not opposing “the children.” It is asking for responsible government.