WEST ALLIS — A petition drive to force a referendum for the $18.8 million borrowing the West Allis-West Milwaukee School District plans to make fell far short of getting the necessary number of signatures.

We got 668 and we needed over 4,000," said Tracy Stefanski, who helped spearhead the effort. 

"I'm disappointed," he said. "With everybody talking about how they want to save tax dollars and for them to be used wisely but they continue to allow the district and board to spend their money frivolously."

The $18.8 million borrowing would add $27 to school property taxes on a $100,000 home for the life of the loan, school officials estimate.

Energy exemption

Ordinarily, that property tax increase would put the district over the state revenue cap. However, there is an exemption for energy projects, which is what the $18.8 million will be for.  Even so, the exemption says the borrowing has to go to referendum, if residents get enough signatures within 30 days on a petition calling for one. That exemption, however, was to disappear with the new state budget.

Jeff Sikich, school board president, was relieved that the deadline passed without a petition being filed.

"I'm pleased because we can move forward with our plans to reduce energy costs and increase energy-efficiency," Sikich said.

Many were nettled by the board coming back with an $18.8 million borrowing plan after voters had turned down a referendum only last April for $12.5 million in additional operational funds.

Not the same

But school officials said those two were separate types of spending. The $12.5 million would have added $2.5 million per year for five years in spending money to support school operations, they said. Voter approval was needed because the plan also involved raising property taxes over the state revenue caps.

The $18.8 million that will now go forward is for capital projects, not operations, officials said.

"This is about money to maintain our schools," Sikich has said.

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