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Alexandria School Board to take up levy Monday

The Alexandria School Board has until August to get an operating levy request on the November election ballot. However, it could authorize one at its regular monthly meeting Monday.

During a work session this past Monday night, the board reviewed three options and appeared to settle on one. It has yet to determine the dollar amount of the levy it will seek from taxpayers, and that is expected to be the focus of any discussion at its July 15 meeting.

School board member Sandy Susag said there's a reason the board began working on a way to plug the district's projected deficits early.

"You don't always come to a conclusion the first time around, so we wanted to make sure we explored all our options, and the pros and cons," she said this week.

While Susag is hopeful the board can come to a consensus Monday, she said that if they do not, they could hold more work sessions. They have held two thus far specific to the financial shortfalls.

During the most recent one, the board rejected a multiple-question approach, with most members settling on what Susag termed a "gradual infusion of the levy," phasing it in over the first three years.

Another option the board looked at was for a single question asking for a single amount over each of the next 10 years. The attraction was that it was the simplest. The downside was that, unlike the phased-in option, the first year imposes a much higher tax burden on residents.

Getting the message out

At this week's work session, Superintendent Julie Critz told the board that other districts have tried the phased-in method and had success with it. That prompted board member Alan Zeithamer to say it would be helpful to learn how they delivered the message, from districts that not only had levies approved but those who did not.

Others also stressed the importance of clear messages to the public in conveying how to solve multi-million dollar shortfalls that are projected to grow. Critz has said that Alexandria is one of the few schools in the area to not have an operating levy bringing in extra revenue, and that it ranks among the bottom in the state for general education funding.

Board member Bob Cunniff said he spoke to someone who, once they learned that Alexandria currently has no operating levy, said that was unfair and that he was more likely to support one.

Critz recently held an informational meeting with community stakeholders, people with a connection to the district. A couple dozen or so attended, including Pam Carlson from the school board. Carlson said one person who had doubts about the need for an operating levy was on board after learning about the district's plight.

"People need to hear the message," she said, noting sentiment for the district fixing its financial issues so it does not have to go back to taxpayers for more. "You have to go for the full amount," she said that she heard many people say. "It solves the problem. Half the amount isn't going to help you."

The board seemed to favor an inflationary device on the levy, which would add the rate of inflation to the amount each year.

"If we don't want to go back to the voters, maybe we need to have that in there," Cunniff said.

Board member Dave Anderson also emphasized the importance of getting the district's financial message to the public.

"When you talk about this to stakeholders, it's almost like talking to the choir," Anderson said. He was worried about convincing someone making mortgage payments on a $200,000 house. "There's a lot of those guys. They certainly outnumber the stakeholders," he said. Anderson figured those taxpayers may eventually support it once they learn more information, but maybe not at first.

"I think it's a can-do project, but it's going to take a lot of work," he said.

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