By Ryan Gueningsman
DELANO, MN This fall, voters in the Delano School District will see a question on the ballot asking to increase general education revenue from the current amount of $426 per pupil, to $990 per pupil.
Much discussion took place about the length the proposed authorization would be in effect. A draft resolution with a five-year term was prepared for the board, but, following discussion, the board decided to increase it to a 10-year period.
Board Member Lisa Seguin brought up the length of the proposed authorization to the board, and said she had spoken with a number of people who had questioned the length of it.
Seguin said the district may be “shooting ourselves in the foot” if it has to go back again in five years. The last referendum for the $426 per pupil was approved in 2002, and has a 10-year term.
Superintendent Dr. John Sweet said enrollment then took off, which “saved the day.” He added the district needs more commercial property on the tax roll, which he said would help relieve the tax burden.
Shifting back to the length of the proposed authorization, Board Vice Chairperson Amy Johnson said she had originally wanted a 10-year term, but, after speaking with people, felt a five-year term may be the better approach due to uncertain economic conditions right now.
The board generally agreed the length typically would not be a factor for voters.
Board Member Carolyn Milano said she leaned more toward a 10-year term for financial stability and being able to know and plan for it.
Sweet, adopting the high school’s slogan, said “failure is not an option” when it comes to this, but admitted the district won’t know until Nov. 8 what would be the right approach.
The board approved the resolution, calling for the special election to be Tuesday, Nov. 8, with the question on the ballot being: “The Board of Independent School District No. 879, Delano, has proposed to revoke its existing referendum revenue authorization of $426 per pupil and replace that authorization with a new authorization of $990 per pupil. The amount shall increase annually by the rate of inflation. The proposed referendum revenue authorization would be applicable for ten (10) years unless otherwise revoked or reduced as provided by law.”
Voters will have the opportunity to vote “yes” or “no,” with the ballot also noting “by voting ‘yes’ on this ballot question, you are voting for a property tax increase.”
Board Member Erika Kluge Frake was absent, and Johnson voted against the motion, noting she felt she had heard more people speak favorably of a five-year term.
“I will 100 percent support 10 (year-term),” Johnson said, adding that a 10-year term was also her personal preference, but she wanted to “have that voice be heard” for those who preferred a five-year term.
Sweet said it would average to about $63 per $100,000 of tax value. The district would replace the current $89 per $100,000 levy with a higher amount. Sweet said the levy was reduced in 2011 by about $45 per $100,000 with the retirement of some other debt, so that lessens the increase.
Earlier in the meeting, Sweet reviewed preliminary proposed budget adjustments should the operating levy fail.
The proposed adjustments included things like bussing only beyond the two-mile legally-required limit for grades five through 12, which would lead to a reduction of one or two routes and save the district approximately $37,448 per route.
“The specifics of this and some of the other proposals haven’t been quite developed yet,” Sweet said.
The elimination of bussing for Sts. Peter and Paul Catholic School in Loretto, which closed, will result in a savings of $17,000.
Reforming the school board, itself, to the legally-required minimum of six members could also save the district about $1,200, but would require an election to implement, and also would increase committee load and board representation on various committees.
Reforming the staff development budget and new teacher mentor program, restructuring the web master positions, and also reductions in the supply budgets for the schools and activities would also be studied.
“Staff development is basically our research and development activities what keeps us good and gets us better,” Sweet said, adding that he feels there has been good programming, which has led to good test results.
Moving to a “team-cleaning” concept could reduce some custodial costs, and also looking at reductions in areas such as media center paraprofessionals, special education program paraprofessionals, a nurse, and teacher levels due to attrition.
Sweet said the proposed adjustments would add up to $607,705, and said four full-time teaching positions could be cut to reach the target $800,000 mark. Projections at this point would be one teacher in the elementary level, and three in grades five through 12, to be determined.
“It’s what we have to do,” Board Chairman Peter Brasket said of looking at potential scenarios, adding the board has made decisions on vendors based more on low bids instead of prior service.
Sweet said the information presented about proposed budget adjustments should the operating levy fail will be part of the informational campaign associated with the operating referendum, and stressed this is a beginning outline of ideas.
“I would rather invest my time in passing the levy,” Sweet said.