After discussions involving budget deficits this past year and into the future, the Alexandria School Board unanimously chose Monday night to send a ballot question to voters this fall that would fund an operating levy for the district.
This operating levy, if passed, would financially support classroom supplies, instruction, transportation, staff salaries and other operating costs.
The board decided on a single-question ballot at its Monday, July 15 meeting. This question will come before voters for the Nov. 5 election.
The ballot will ask voters to choose either yes or no on increasing the school district’s general education revenue by the following tax payable amounts: $375 per pupil for taxes payable in 2020; $485 per pupil for taxes payable in 2021; and $595 per pupil for taxes payable in 2022 through 2029.
The proposed new revenue authorization would be applicable for 10 years unless otherwise revoked or reduced.
The measure was approved by a 6-0 vote. Board member Alan Zeithamer was not present at the meeting, but he previously stated he was in support of the levy.
“We think we can make this work,” Superintendent Julie Critz said.
However, Critz and several board members still see challenges with getting voters to support the operating levy.
“Nobody wants a tax increase,” Critz said.
Board member Angie Krebs said following the meeting, “We still have a lot of work to do.”
If the levy were to pass, mental health services would be added to all schools. Currently, the district has 13 social workers, and that number would grow. School board Chairman Dean Anderson said this would address the problem of bullying and kids not getting along with each other.
Also if the operating levy is passed, it would allow the district to reduce the number of students in some classes. This solution would address the issue of increasing enrollment, which the district says is projected to rise by 11-13 percent in the next 10 years.
The levy will also fund an expansion of programs that prepare high school students for careers.
“We don’t want that to come to an end. That would be very sad,” board member Bob Cunniff said after the meeting.
He also said it is important to educate the community on what it’s spending money on. Plans for how to do that will come in another board meeting.
“We have to tell that story to people. And our story starts with: we do not have an operating levy and just about everybody else in the state of Minnesota has one,” Cunniff said.
Krebs said the state average operating levy amount per pupil for taxes payable is more than $900, so she thinks what the board is asking is a fair amount, at half that average.
“We’ve tried to be fiscally responsible, and I think that our taxpayers can see that too,” she said. “We owe it to the kids that we’re educating to provide a quality education.”
Cunniff said the first thing mothers with young children ask about when they’re looking to move to Alexandria is education.
“If they don’t like it, they’re not going to come here. If they hear we have a bad reputation, they’re not going to come here,” he said.
The first year of the operating levy would amount to approximately an extra $120 per year for the owner of a $220,000 home, which is the average home value in the district.
In year two, the tax increase on the average home would amount to $34 more than the first year, but that second-year increase will be largely offset by a reduction in the tax levy due to the refunding of existing bonds, Trevor Peterson, the district’s business services director, said after the meeting.
The tax affects each property differently and the figures given are estimations, he said.