Voting for the Alexandria School district referendum is approaching quickly. In just about a week and a half, part of the school district’s budget is going to see modifications, no matter if the referendum passes or fails.
If the referendum passes, the district would be able to maintain or reduce class sizes, continue with specialist teachers, expand mental health support and maintain or expand authentic work experiences at the middle and high school. If it fails, class sizes would increase, staff members would be laid off, some elective courses would be eliminated and the district would experience ongoing budget cuts.
Here’s a look at what happens in each scenario.
The school district is proposing a 10-year, voter-approved operating levy with a phased-in approach where the amount taxpayers would pay would increase incrementally over the first three years.
If approved, the levy would be for $375 per student in the 2020-21 school year, $485 per student in the 2021-22 school year and $595 per student in the 2022-23 school year. It would remain at that level for the remainder of the 10-year period.
The tax impact for homeowners would also be phased in over time. The first year of the operating levy would amount to approximately $117 per year for the owner of a $220,000 home, which is the average home value in the district. In year two, the owners of that average home would pay about $151 a year, or about $34 more than the first year. It rises another $34 for the third year, to $185, and remains at that rate through year 10.
Agricultural property and seasonal recreational property are affected a bit differently with this tax increase. Farmers would pay a tax for their homestead land, plus one acre, because of this operating levy. Any land they own more than the one acre would not be subject to the tax.
Seasonal recreational property, such as a cabin that is only used in the summer, would not be taxed as a result of this operating levy.
With the operating levy in place, the district would be able to maintain or reduce class sizes by adding more sections of particular grade levels. The ideal range is 23-24 students per class in elementary schools, Superintendent Julie Critz said. Current class sizes exceed those numbers in the elementaries.
Critz said the main focus would be placed on elementary classrooms first, and then the district administration would work its way up, focusing lastly on middle school and high school. This focus is because district staff wants students to have a strong foundation in skills such as reading and math, Critz said.
Also with the operating levy, students would be able to continue having assistance from specialist teachers who focus on elective subjects such as science, career and technical education and fine arts.
Mental health support would also expand if the referendum should pass, with the district adding social workers and staff.
“This speaks to the teaching and growing of a student’s capacity for resiliency or building self-confidence, self-esteem and teaching them the skill of coping when things don’t go well,” Critz said. She said the district wants to respond to the growing statewide and national mental health issues by helping local students at all levels of schooling.
If the referendum passes, what the district calls “real world work experiences” at the middle and high school would continue or even expand. These courses include Center for Advanced Professional Studies classes, internship classes and career internships.
“You take what you’ve learned in a classroom and apply it in an authentic setting to see how your math or science skills, or really any subject matter, actually apply in the real world,” Critz said when describing these classes.
The district would experience ongoing budget cuts with a failed referendum. The district would be more than $2 million short for the 2020-21 school year and nearly $2.7 million short for 2021-22.
Without additional revenue, if the levy is not passed, the district says it would have to cut additional resources. A minimum of 15 staff members would have to be laid off, with a maximum of 31. Class sizes would be at numbers higher than they’ve ever been.
If the referendum fails, some elective courses such as career and technical education and fine arts at the middle and high school would be eliminated. The district school board has not decided on any specific classes yet.
These cuts do not mean the district doesn’t value the fine arts, it just means the district would be doing what it can to survive, Critz said, adding, “Kids love the electives.”
“We want them to pursue their passions,” said Jill Johnson, supervisor of communications and marketing in the district.
Electives draw people to the community, she said. When teachers and programs are reduced, enrollment can also shrink, which affects the total revenue the district can bring in.
Because there are no electives at the elementary level, specialist teacher positions for elementaries would be reduced, but vital subjects such as science would not be eliminated altogether. Instead, the specialist teachers’ responsibilities would be placed on the regular classroom teachers in the elementary schools.
With increasing enrollment, if the district needed more education space, especially at the elementary schools, the district office at Woodland Elementary School would be placed elsewhere and the space at the elementary would become classrooms.
There would not be any further construction projects for taxpayers for a new district office. District staff would be placed in an already existing building someplace in Alexandria.
District staff cannot deny enrollment for students who live in the district, so with enrollment projected to increase, class sizes would also increase.
For questions, call 320-762-2141, extension 4223, or email firstname.lastname@example.org. More information, along with a property tax impact calculator, can be found on the project’s website, alexschools.org/referendum.