Winsted-Lester Prairie Journal, Oct. 25, 1999

LP board promotes upcoming referendum

By Luis Puga

Lester Prairie School Board members presented information on the district's upcoming levy referendum at a special meeting Tuesday.

A handful of people listened as board members Barry Kyllo and Chester Hoernemann, and Supt. James Redfield presented their case as to why the board put the levy referendum on the ballot.

In general, board members reminded citizens of all the reasons why the school is proposing a levy referendum.

The referendum will raise the levy by $415 per pupil unit. This is the maximum amount equalized by the state, meaning that every dollar of local effort will be matched by two dollars from the state.

Audience members were given a sheet showing some of the referendums that other area schools had passed. Kyllo said that some of the lower numbers on the sheet, such as Norwood Young America, indicated amounts that might have been the maximum amount the state would equalize in the past.

He noted that some of those schools might choose to go to their voters and raise it to the state's current maximum to take advantage of those dollars. Kyllo added that if the state were to raise the maximum over the 10-year span of Lester Prairie's proposed excess levy, the district could also take another vote to raise the levy amount.

As of now, the board has had one previous information meeting, is beginning to distribute brochures on the referendum, and has sent tax impact figures to taxpayers in the district.

Kyllo said that resources for the school are in short supply. Of teacher salaries, he said the school must be competitive and realistic since it is close to the metro area where teachers can get more money. He also noted that many teachers and administrators will be retiring in the next 10 to 15 years all over the country, so staff will be scarce as it is.

Kyllo also noted that the district has been efficient in the use of its resources, looking to merge positions when possible. However, he and Redfield noted that state aid has not kept up with the rise in inflation. Costs such as heating and lighting have gone up, while the district has only gotten one increase in state aid over the past 10 years.

Another issue touched upon was technology. Hoernemann noted the age of the school's computers, observing that none of them are comparable to what students might face when they graduate. He noted that the school's interactive TV system was also getting old, and would need to be replaced to keep up with the system's network demands.

On this subject, Kyllo was adamant that the school would not spend money frivolously.

"I work in technology and we need technology, but the right technology in the right situation," he said.

Kyllo then asked audience members what they have been hearing from neighbors concerning the referendum.

Fred Holasek replied that he thought most people are still unaware that an excess levy referendum will be on the ballot.

He also asked whether the educational and agricultural credits, which are predicted to decrease the district's overall tax impact, would be just for this year or for the entire referendum period. Those tax credits could make the impact of the excess levy referendum negligible in terms of the amount a taxpayer would pay in additional taxes if the referendum is passed.

Redfield replied that those credits would be for every year of the referendum, but noted the law that provides those credits is only two years old. The state could rescind it in the future.

Hoernemann added that Governor Jesse Ventura's aid for reducing class sizes was negligible, amounting to $1,300 for the Lester Prairie district.

At that point, Diane Prehn asked what voters would get in terms of curriculum and technology if the referendum passes.

Redfield replied the money would be used to maintain current standards and expand the curriculum and some technology.

However, Prehn was critical of the school's current curriculum, saying she wished that her children had an opportunity to take advance placement courses in high school when they attended Lester Prairie.

Redfield noted that while Lester Prairie does not have advance placement courses, students could take college classes through the telemedia system. Prehn questioned whether those credits would transfer, and board members maintained they would since the state sets those standards.

Prehn added that she wondered whether the school's curriculum might be improved if it had consolidated with the Howard Lake-Waverly-Winsted (HLWW) district.

Kyllo wondered just because the board hears from 60-70 people, did it have a mandate to make the recent planning decisions it had made.

He said, "Of everybody who shows up at the meetings, nobody has ever said what you said."

He noted that if the referendum fails, he would take that to mean that the community is not dedicated to keeping the district independent.

Hoernemann said that the costs of consolidation might be more of an impact on taxpayers, noting the expense of transporting children.

Prehn responded the cost would mean nothing to her if the curriculum was better.

However, Redfield argued that during the consolidation issue, both the Lester Prairie and HLWW district had met to compare curriculums, and he felt Lester Prairie was only lacking HLWW's agriculture program, but was better in college level offerings and science programs.

Hoernemann added that there are only so many hours in a day, and a large school may have more offerings, but not every student will be able to avail themselves of those offerings because of time.

Prehn argued that the individual student would make that decision, depending on how dedicated they were to their education. She asked again what curriculum and technology changes she could expect.

Kyllo said the referendum funds would be used to balance the budget. Any leftover funds would be used to expand on curriculum and technology.

He also mentioned "other options" which might keep the school independent, but said those options were being explored and he did not want to elaborate on them.

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