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Spring 2023 Referendum Information

The Question

On April 4, 2023, voters will decide on the North Lake School District referendum ballot question.  

The question will ask:

“Shall the North Lake School District, Waukesha County, Wisconsin be authorized to exceed the revenue limit specified in Section 121.91, Wisconsin Statutes, by $1,100,000 for the 2023-2024 school year, by $1,200,000 for the 2024-2025 school year and by $1,300,000 for the 2025-2026 school year, for non-recurring purposes to maintain educational programming and to sustain operational costs?” 

This non-recurring referendum is an operational referendum. An operational referendum provides funding for annual operating expenses.

Community Informational Meetings

Please join us for a referendum presentation and community conversation. Invite your neighbors!

 Lakers Library (DOOR G) 

  • March 15, 2023 at 6:30 p.m.  

Community Meeting Presentation

These meetings will provide an opportunity to hear from the North Lake School District Representatives and the School Business Solutions Team of Robert W. Baird, Co. 

Refreshments will be served. 

The Need For Additional Funding

The North Lake School District has a long history of local officials being fiscally responsible and conservative spenders. Severe declining enrollment and decreased state revenue have negatively impacted the school’s annual budget over time. 

The funding issues stem largely from the state revenue limit formula and inflation. Schools are not funded equally. In 1993, revenue/taxing limits were established for school districts based on their spending at that time and these limits have not been adjusted. North Lake has been held to a constraint from a previous decade because it was frugal at that time. 

School District Success

Despite the state funding challenges, the North Lake School District continues to offer an exceptional educational experience in its rural K-8 setting and attracts open enrollment students from neighboring districts every day.

The positive open enrollment numbers at North Lake School have postponed the need for an operational referendum. However, the lack of population growth within the district is detrimental. There is a finite amount of young families moving in, a low turnover in the housing market, and an aging community in the district boundaries. 

How can the district continue to attract open enrollment students?

Annually, the board approves open enrollment seats at each grade level. The open enrollment window is from February 6, 2023 through April 28, 2023 for the 2023-2024 school year. Application information can be found here.

The district will continue to attract new open enrollment students by maintaining its strong academic programming with excellent, experienced staff. The best advertising for the school is word of mouth and happy kids! Personal school tours and individual shadow opportunities are available by request.

Open enrollment income helps to offset the budget deficit in the district but is not the answer. The per pupil rate for open enrollment is $8,224 which is considerably less than the resident per pupil amount: $10,350. A successful referendum could attract new students by sustaining the five star educational program at North Lake School.

Current Cost Saving Measures

The district has made a significant effort to put cost saving measures in place before asking its stakeholders for additional tax dollars. The table below explains these measures over the years.

Decreased Spending:

  • Elimination of Administrative Positions (Principal & Curriculum)
  • Reduction of Speciality Staff (PE, Spanish, Reading, Library Media, Gifted/Talented, & Art)
  • Elimination of Teacher Salary Schedule

  • Elimination of Retiree Benefits
  • Increased Staff Contributions to Wisconsin Retirement System & Health Insurance
  • Elimination of Employee Long-Term Care Insurance
  • Elimination of Elective Offerings (French, German, & Photography)
  • Energy Efficient Systems Installation (HVAC & LED Lighting)
  • Shared Services (Waukesha County Health Insurance Cooperative, Arrowhead Area District Transportation, Arrowhead Area Summer School Cooperative, Occupational Therapy, School Psychologist, & Band Director)
  • Staff Budget Freezes (Classroom Supplies)
  • Elimination of Waukesha County DARE Program & 8th Grade Overnight Trip

Increased Revenue:

  • Attraction of Open Enrollment Students
  • Establishment of North Lake Education Foundation

  • Community Partnership with Lake Country Kindergarten Preschool for 4K & Early Childhood Programming
  • Grant Awards (WI-DWD Fast Forward)
  • Solicitation of Private Donations

  • Increased & New Student Fees

Potential Tax Impact

How will this referendum affect the tax rate on my home?
Referendum Tax Increase Table

The Baird Forecasting Model included these assumptions:  flat resident enrollment growth and state aid of $100 per pupil amount. An increase of 2% in the equalized property value, an increase of 8% in transportation costs and an increase of 4.5 % in utilities, and a modest increase for staff salaries and wages were also assumed.

What has the tax history been for the district?
NLSD Mill Rate History
I am retired and on a fixed income. How will the referendum affect my tax bill?

Yes, there will be a potential tax rate increase in 2023 and 2024. However, the tax rate will potentially decrease in 2025.

The projected tax increase is comparable to previous tax rates and considerably less over the past decade as seen in the chart below.

Levy Rate

*Projected rates and potential tax impact assumed by Baird Forecasting Model

Why would the potential tax rate go down in the third year (2025)?

The last payment of the district’s long term debt (2015 Facilities Referendum) will be paid off on March 1, 2025. The tax levy in Fund 39 will be reduced by $247,450.00.

Community Partnerships

What is the relationship between the district and the community in North Lake?

The school is the heart of North Lake. The community thrives as a result of the school population and family participation in community events. The North Lake School Community hosts many annual events such as Veterans Day Programs, Harvest Fest, and Family Picnics. 

The district also enjoys community partnerships with the Town Hall Library and local businesses such as Competitor Awards & Engraving and Small Towne Gas in downtown North Lake.

If enrollment is down, can the district rent space to interested groups?

The school building is utilized entirely during the school day. The expansion of Lakers Manufacturing Experience has especially benefited from open classrooms in the upper school. 

The special education program has also grown and utilizes any additional classrooms to meet increasing student needs.  

The extended day program has dedicated space in the original part of the historical school building. The district continues to maintain self operational services such as childcare, food, and custodial cleaning. These services represent cost saving measures (not outsourced) and support school safety protocols (know who is in the building).

During non-student contact hours, the school building is used by a variety of groups and organizations including extra-curriculars, Scouts, Girl Scouts, 4-H Clubs, basketball & volleyball leagues/select teams, and other community members.  

The district’s facility use agreement can be found here.

What are the benefits of the district’s community partnership with Lake Country Kindergarten Preschool?

Lake Country Kindergarten (LCK) Preschool is housed in North Lake School and provides private three year old kindergarten and public four year old kindergarten programs. The benefit of this partnership is community outreach and attraction/retention of new families.  

Many families who enroll in LCK through residency or open enrollment tend to remain at North Lake School for their children’s K-8 educational experience. LCK is an important pipeline for the K-8 district’s student population for the district and prepares young learners well for five year old kindergarten.

A Look Back at LCK Numbers

*(3 moved out of Waukesha County)
Year4K Enrollment (LCK)5K Enrollment (NL)Retention Rate of LCK by NL


What percentage of school revenue would the operational referendum represent in 2023-2024?

The successful operational referendum would represent the following percentages of school revenue:

  • 21.84% in 2023-2024
  • 23.26% in 2024-2025
  • 24.72% in 2025-2026

NOTE: These percentages are estimates based on the assumptions made in the forecasting model.

If the referendum is approved, what would the money be used for?

The additional dollars would maintain the excellent educational programming and help to sustain operational costs. 

NLSD Ref Fund Usage
Why can't the district make cuts to address these financial challenges?

Over the past decade, the district has worked tirelessly to reduce expenses. To maintain the high level of education for our resident students and to continue attracting open enrollment families, the district would be extremely challenged to eliminate further positions or programs.

Is the North Lake School District alone in needing additional support?

No. The state’s school funding system has been deteriorating for two decades. 

Since 2016, more than 70% of Wisconsin’s 421 school districts have proposed at least one type of referendum question to their communities.  

 In 2023, 80 Wisconsin school districts have 10% of their revenue limit supplemented by non-occurring operational referendums. 

The per pupil revenue caps have lagged behind inflation since 2009. The resulting loss is $3,200 per pupil in the 2022-2023 school year.

Are other Wisconsin school districts experiencing declining enrollment?

Yes, nearly 75% of school districts in the state are in declining enrollment including the majority of the Arrowhead Area feeder schools and Arrowhead Union High School.

Contributing factors to declining enrollment:

  • Decrease of birth rate in county and state
  • Competition from expansion of private/voucher/charter programs
How many registered voters are there in the North Lake School District?

According to the December 2022 Certification of Registered Voters, there are:

  • 2,102 registered voters in the Town of Merton
  • 26 registered voters in the Village of Chenequa
Have the North Lake School District's taxpayers approved referenda before?

Yes. The North Lake School District has overwhelmingly supported the mission of the school and embraced its special place in the North Lake Community.



Paying the cost of completing capital maintenance projects



40,000 sq. ft. facility expansion

What happens if the operational referendum does not pass on April 4, 2023?

Here is a breakdown of the district’s spending in its operational budget:

NLSD Expenditures

As you can see, the majority of spending is dedicated to staffing (78%). Without additional funding, it would be difficult to sustain the current educational experience at North Lake School. Most likely, further staffing reductions would occur and the quality of education would be compromised for students.

Ultimately, a failed referendum in April 2023 would mean a significant budget shortfall with little protection from the district’s depleted fund balance. Another referendum question would appear on the ballot in April 2024.

Are all of my property taxes going towards the North Lake School District?

No. Annually, approximately $98,000 of the North Lake portion of your property taxes goes directly to educate students in private/parochial/charter schools.

How did the North Lake School District spend its Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund (ESSER) provided through federal COVID funding?

ESSER dollars were not used on one-time pandemic needs. The funds were put towards ongoing district operations. ESSER dollars were distributed based on student poverty levels. The North Lake School District received very little funding according to this model because its poverty level is non-existent.  

In 2020-2021, the district spent $40,000.00 ESSER funds on 3-8th grade student devices (Chromebooks) and sanitation/prevention supplies. 

In 2021-2022, the district spent $176,528.00 ESSER funds on reading curriculum, technology coordinator position, technology supplies, school nurse position, and a portion of a new playground structure. 

In 2022-2023, the district spent $456,873.00 ESSER funds on middle school textbooks/workbooks, K-2nd & 5-8th grade student devices (Chromebooks), four middle school teaching positions in math & science, school counselor position, and summer school programming.

ESSER funds were not used for new expenses. The fund supported ongoing programs and existing teaching staff.

Will there be any new subdivisions in the North Lake School District’s future?

North Lake School is defined as a small, rural district due to its average attendance of less than 600 students and a low population density.  Please refer to the district boundaries map below.

NLSD Boundary Map

Questions about community development and planning can be directed to the Town Planner and the Department of Planning & Development. The contact information can be found here.

Are student needs rising and doesn’t the state reimburse for special education costs?

Student needs continue to rise for a variety of reasons. Special education costs can be difficult to absorb in a small, rural K-8 district like ours. The state reimburses for special education costs through Fund 27. However, the rate of reimbursement is less than 25% of total cost. The reimbursement rate also varies by qualifying need and by school year.

What can be done to change the state school funding model?

Advocacy and communication can be part of the plea for a change to the broken state school funding model. Stakeholders are encouraged to contact their state and local government officials with suggestions, concerns, and thoughts.

Helpful Resources & Links