Herald JournalHerald Journal, Dec. 13, 2004

Referendum plans, cuts were talk of HLWW School Board

By Jenni Sebora

Money matters formed the crux of last Monday’s Howard Lake-Waverly-Winsted School Board meeting.

The board had its truth in taxation hearing for its proposed 2005 tax levy, discussed the upcoming operating levy referendum, and briefly looked at possible cuts for the 2005-06 school year.

Superintendent George Ladd showed those present how school taxes on a property have fluctuated during the past 10 years, either due to state funding or the lack of it. For example, school taxes on a $100,000 home have gone from less than $100 to more than $800 in a 10-year time span.

School districts are limited in the areas in which they can levy taxes without voter approval, because the majority of their funds come from the state. One area is health and safety.

To lower the district’s taxes next year, Ladd said approximately $200,000 for health and safety could be cut from the 2005 levy and reinstated in the 2006 levy.

At some point, money will have to be spent on removing asbestos, replacing flooring, and improving air quality at the Winsted and Waverly elementary schools. That $200,000, however, is not enough to complete the project, Ladd said.

The project could be completed with money from the health and safety fund, together with a building bond or deferred maintenance dollars from an operating levy, he said.

“At some point, this work needs to be done,” Ladd said.

“We have facilities; we have students in them; we have to maintain them,” Board Member Al Doering said.

The board plans to certify its final tax levy at the Monday, Dec. 20 meeting.

The operating levy

When the operating levy vote failed Nov. 2, the school district not only lost an estimated $715,000 for the next seven years, but roughly another $190,000 from the state, Ladd said.

The state, more or less, awards those districts whose residents support them by saying “yes” to operating tax levies.

If more people knew that, the levy may have passed Nov. 2, said Kendell Kubasch, the citizens levy committee organizer and a rural Howard Lake resident.

“Money talks,” Kubasch said.

After talking with several district residents, Kubasch said he concluded there were a lot of misconceptions and lack of information regarding the last levy vote.

Information such as the need to remove the asbestos tiles at the elementary schools and losing state kickback money if a levy doesn’t pass is important information the public needs to know and is key to passing a levy, Kubasch said.

The board agreed at a previous meeting to have another operating levy vote, but via mail-in ballots this time. It hasn’t decided what amount to ask voters for or when to conduct the mail-in ballot.

The district must follow strict time lines to conduct an election using mail-in ballots. For a Feb. 15 election, the board must submit all levy information to election consultant Tom Deans no later than Dec. 13. The board then must approve an operating levy referendum by its Dec. 20 meeting so county auditors in Wright, McLeod and Carver counties can be notified by the Dec. 24 deadline, Ladd said.

If a mail-in ballot would take place on Feb. 15, the ballots need to be in the voters’ hands no later than Feb. 1.

Time was a concern expressed by some board members and Kubasch.

After the holidays, that gives the support group approximately one month to get out and tell voters what they need to know about the levy, Kubasch said.

Board members Tom Hammer and Dan Schaible agreed having the mail-in ballot Feb. 15 may not give the committees enough time to inform the public. Hammer said he would push for the second window, a late March levy vote rather than the Feb. 15 date to give the committee more time to organize.

The levy amount, whether the existing levy should be rolled into a new levy, and how many years the tax will be collected are all topics the board will decide upon in the near future.

Kubasch stressed not asking for something so minimal that the district will have to come back in two years and ask for more money, which could cost the district students also.

A special board meeting was set for Wednesday, Dec. 15 at 4:30 p.m. in the Howard Lake media center to look at numbers and gauge support.

Possible cuts

In light of the failed November referendum, the budget committee drafted a budget reduction report.

Beginning in the 2005-06 school year, the district will be short almost $1.2 million to meet operating expenses. That deficit will need to be met through spending cuts or increased revenue.

Some reductions may be implemented as early as January 2005. The board noted it would be helpful to have information regarding what effect a passed referendum would have on these proposed budget reductions.

In other matters, the board set a closed meeting Monday, Jan. 10 to continue discussing the superintendent’s evaluation.

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