Oct. 9, 2006

School officials explain levy referendum to Dassel City Council

By Roz Kohls
Staff Writer

Dassel Cokato Public School levy of $127.18 per pupil drops to zero when it expires at the end of the school year in June.

That’s why the school district is asking the voters to vote on an operating levy Tuesday, Nov. 7, School Board Chairman Kevin Dahlman told the city council at its regular meeting last Monday.

The seven-year $325-per-pupil levy the district is proposing will not only reduce class sizes in the elementary schools, but also cover daily expenses such as paying for bus and heating fuel, add more foreign language, math and science opportunities for high school students, and reinstate the Family and Consumer Science program, said Dassel Elementary School Principal Karen Coblentz.

Last year at Dassel’s elementary school, there were 23 to 24 fourth graders per class, for example. This year, there are 28. The goal is to limit class size in grades three and four to 25 or less, she said.

Mayor Ava Flachmeyer asked how the district arrived at the $325 per pupil figure, an increase of 155 percent from what the 20-year per pupil levy is now. Dahlman said the district prioritized what students needed most. The $127.18 per pupil levy wasn’t even keeping up with inflation, he said.

Also, the $325 per pupil levy will lift Dassel Cokato off the bottom of the Wright County Conference’s per pupil operating levies and overall general fund expenditures. Watertown-Mayer’s is currently $242, Litchfield’s is $301, Delano’s is $427, and Hutchinson is $807, Dahlman pointed out.

There is a difference between a bond, which is money for improving facilities, and an operating levy, money used for daily operational expenses. An easy way to remember the difference is that “bond” begins with “b,” just like “building.” “Levy” begins with “l” just like “learning,” he said.

Part of the problem with financing schools is that Dassel Cokato is “property poor,” Dahlman said. It does not have a big power plant like Becker, nor a 3M manufacturing plant like Hutchinson. Homeowners and small businesses carry the tax burden themselves.

The average market value of a home in the Dassel Cokato area is $140,000. If the levy passes, the average property owner will see a yearly increase of $53.76 in taxes. On agricultural land, the property owner is taxed only on the home site and one acre, he said.

City Council Member Bob Lalone asked if the goal is to reduce class sizes, where will the schools find room to hold the extra classes as a result? Won’t the extra classes force a building addition or expansion in the future? he questioned.

Dahlman responded that the district will only construct more buildings if there are extra students, not extra programs.

Lalone also related how a man from Massachusetts had expected to pay a user fee for his children to use school buses when he moved to central Minnesota. Council Member Al Dunn agreed that in his home state of California, users paid for bus transportation, not taxpayers as a whole.

Dahlman responded, however, that the amount of taxes paid for busing is probably less than a user fee or the cost of parents driving their children to school themselves

Dahlman agreed with Lalone, though, that as various school bonds get paid off, district expenditures will go down. A bond for the middle school will retire soon, he said.

Bob Gasch, professional storyteller and parent of a first grader, also told council members how school district taxes are an investment in the community.

Odds and ends

In other business, the council:

• heard a report from Susan Keskey of Cokato, that the Methamphetamine Education and Drug Awareness Coalition of Wright County is looking for volunteers for its “Community on Alert” program in Dassel. The volunteers will man display booths at community functions, she said.

• listened to a report from Municipal Liquor Store Manager Marvin Vetsch that sales were down in September, probably because of the unusually cool weather, but that he still expects 6 percent growth for the year.

• noted that enterprise budgets, such as those for the liquor store, and water and sewer departments, will be reviewed Monday, Oct. 16, at the next regular council meeting, in preparation for adoption Monday, Nov. 6.

To access past and present minutes of city council meetings, go to the web site ci.dassel.mn.us or contact the city at (320) 275-2454.

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