Herald JournalHerald Journal, Dec. 6, 2004

Citizens band together to support HLWW levy

By Jane Otto

Staff Writer

Roughly 85 Howard Lake-Waverly-Winsted school district residents crammed the high school’s media center Nov. 23.

Though nameless, the group has a definite mission: spread the word that the district needs money to continue educating children as it has in the past.

One parent’s frustration led to that Nov. 23 gathering.

Save the school

Kendell Kubasch felt surprise and disappointment following the past November election.

Voters denied the district’s request to collect more taxes to continue operating as is. The operating levy request failed by a mere 174 votes, with more than 4,000 people voting.

It was the second straight year voters said “no” to a levy.

With two children in the school, and a Howard Lake High School graduate himself, Kubasch had a hard time swallowing that fact.

“I thought everybody knew how desperately it needed to pass,” said Kubasch, a rural Howard Lake resident.

Kubasch took that frustration to the Nov. 15 school board meeting. The board, facing an estimated $400,000 deficit this year and the same, if not more, next year, must ask voters again to OK an operating levy. Otherwise, the board will need to cut spending by almost $1 million.

The board approved asking voters via a mail-in ballot sometime between Jan. 3 and Feb. 15, or April 1 and Aug. 23.

Kubasch wants that tax levy to pass.

“Cutting a sports program or a few teachers isn’t going to amount to $1.2 million,” he said. “Saying ‘no’ is probably going to raise your taxes more in the long run.”

At the Nov. 15 school board meeting, Kubasch asked for the board’s support to organize a citizens’ support group.

Kubasch admitted he wanted to see 150 to 200 people at the Nov. 23 meeting, but a friend told him, “You’ll be lucky to get 15 or 20.”

The Nov. 23 crowd made him happy. Among the throng sat school board members, the school superintendent, and the mayors from all three towns.

The group discussed possible spending cuts the board could make, why it wants to pass a tax levy in the coming year, and the school’s future without those extra tax dollars.

Currently the school has roughly $400,000 in reserves, but may outspend its revenues by a similar amount this school year. Because the levy request failed Nov. 2, the district won’t have any extra money to offset that.

In addition, the state, which is facing a projected $700,000 deficit, put a freeze on increasing school funding two years ago, thus making it difficult for districts to meet inflationary costs.

“If we don’t cut and overspend next year, then it multiplies,” Superintendent George Ladd said Wednesday. “Now, we’ve got to make a decision. Do we overspend or do we reduce? . . . It’s a very precarious position we’re in.”

Ladd told the Nov. 23 crowd the district will know better sometime next year whether it will be in statutory operating debt.

According to state law, a district is in statutory operating debt when it spends 2.5 percent more to operate than it has. For example, if a district has no reserve fund and $1 million in revenues, but spends 2.5 percent more, or $25,000 more than that $1 million, it enters statutory operating debt.

The state, then, “demands” the district has a plan in place to improve, Ladd said.

Improving financially could be through “cuts, revenue enhancements, or closing buildings,” he said. “(The state) won’t make that decision, they’ll make you make it.”

What’s ahead

After learning the district’s financial woes, the group turned its discussion to passing the upcoming mail-in ballot.

“The biggest thing for this group to do is physically go out and educate the people as to what will happen if it doesn’t happen,” Kubasch told them.

Kubasch later stressed the importance of having people understand “the gravity of what it means” if the levy fails.

The Nov. 23 turnout gave Kubasch and Ladd a hopeful outlook.

“When you get 85 people – landowners, community members – wanting to get the word out, I’m optimistic,” Kubasch said.

Ladd said the turnout was “very heartening.”

He added, however, that HLWW’s financial situation is not unique. “It’s repeated all over the state,” he said. “You go to any district and it’s either been there, going to be there, or there right now.”

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