Herald and Journal, Aug. 27, 2001

LP plans what to look at; referendum also possible

By Patrice Waldron

Still at the forefront for the Lester Prairie School Board is cooperation/consolidation with either the Glencoe-Silver Lake School District (GSL), or the Howard Lake-Waverly-Winsted (HLWW) School District.

When the board met last Monday, few were in the audience to hear the ideas for discussion when cooperation/consolidation groups meet.

Supt. James Redfield presented a few guidelines to consider.

One idea suggested was looking at the area schools which had most recently consolidated, GSL and HLWW to compare the courses, curriculum, activities, and finances, before and after the pairing took place.

Redfield suggested looking at what Lester Prairie had to offer at that time, compared to what the school is offering now.

A comparison between Lester Prairie's finances at that time, and the finances of the school district today would also be made.

"I think what we also need to look at how we can improve by consolidating, what programs are out there that we don't have," said school board Chairman Gene Starke.

"Will we get some of these programs if we consolidate, or will we still be in the same boat and not get them?" Starke asked.

Another area to consider is financing. Starke stated that it is important to ask GSL and HLWW about how they stand financially.

"Are you (GSL or HLWW) going to be financially sound even if we consolidate with you? There are increased costs in transportation, with the addition of these programs, where's the money going to come from?" Starke asked.

Committees to study the prospect of cooperation/consolidation are also being formed in the GSL and HLWW school districts.

It is expected that early this fall, meetings will be scheduled between the groups to begin studying the options available to the Lester Prairie School District.

With the start of the 2001-02 school year so close, Redfield announced that the enrollment figures were up a little from what had been projected.

"Registration has been pretty balanced as far as ins and outs," Redfield said.

Referendum procedure

There are significant changes that will occur in the tax laws next year, including a tax reduction, Redfield said.

The biggest change will be that all the general education funding will be picked up by the state.

The district's current referendum, which provides $415 per pupil unit will be picked up by the state. This means that $415 will be paid by the state instead of that money coming from a local levy.

This would be a significant tax savings for home owners, he said.

"Do we want to look at the possibility of a referendum starting next year?" asked Redfield.

In order to take advantage of the changes, the school must pass an operating referendum on the November ballot.

Ehlers and Associates, Inc. prepared a report for the school district outlining ways the district could make use of the tax law changes.

Although the state is picking up additional general education funding, school districts across the state will also lose some money in the process. Previously, money from property taxes was dispersed by the county in May and October.

Because the tax money normally paid by homeowners will now be paid by the state, those funds will be distributed throughout the year rather than in two lumps that in turn could be invested.

It was estimated that move will cost Lester Prairie about $50,000 per year.

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