By Starrla Cray
DELANO, MN At last Monday’s Delano School Board meeting, the board approved a resolution calling for an election to renew its expiring voter-approved operating levy of $426 per pupil that would not increase taxes.
A second question on the ballot calls for an additional $325 per pupil levy that would increase taxes by $6.12 per month per $100,000 of property tax value.
Passage of the second question is contingent upon passage of the first question.
The levy would be effective for 10 years, beginning with taxes payable in 2013.
Before passing the resolution, the board spent a considerable amount of time and effort deliberating its options.
“I think we could debate how to do this until the cows come home. We’ve had meetings upon meetings, and we’re still not there,” Board Member Corey Black said during last Monday’s discussion.
At a previous meeting, the board agreed to have two questions on the ballot.
Lumping everything into one question would be too risky, board members said, because if it doesn’t pass, the school is left with nothing. On the other hand, three questions would offer more choices, but might cause voter confusion.
“We need to be abundantly clear of what we need and why we need it,” Board Member Sarah Baker said.
When the state eliminated the general education levy in 2001, voter-approved operating levies were the only option schools had to make up for lost revenues, according to Delano Public Schools.
In 2002, Delano voters approved a $426 per-pupil operating levy for 10 years that provides $1.2 million in revenue for the district’s general fund. That levy expires June 30, 2013, and needs to be renewed/increased at the Tuesday, Nov. 6 election in order for revenues to flow in 2013-14.
In 2011, the Delano Public School operating levy failed by 159 votes. As a result, the school has made about $650,000 in cuts, Board Chair Amy Johnson said.
“We have to keep these class sizes under control and be able to afford activities and athletics and a well-rounded education for the kids,” she said.
Last year’s failed proposal would have increased the $426 per-pupil levy to $990 per pupil.
“That was what we determined was needed to maintain educational excellence,” Johnson said.
Because this year’s proposed increase of $325 per pupil (question two on the ballot) is lower than last year, the board stated it might have a better chance of passing. However, people who would like to see a higher increase will not have that option on the ballot.
“I’d like to see a third question added,” a Delano Middle School teacher and mother told the board. “These two questions would only allow us to maintain a new lowered standard. Having 29 to 30 kids in a classroom isn’t something we should want to maintain.”
About 25 people attended Monday’s meeting, many who are part of the “Vote Yes” Delano volunteer action committee.
Delano resident Harlan Lewis also expressed his commitment to Delano Public Schools.
“Our homes have maintained a greater value than other cities, in large part due to our schools,” he said. “When people speak of pride in our community, reference is always made to the school. As a senior, I want great education for our children and I’m willing to pay for it.”
The board acknowledged other viewpoints within the community, as well.
“At other meetings, I’ve heard people say they’re on the verge of losing their house, or that their husband or wife is out of a job,” Johnson said, adding that she understands the concern about raising taxes.
“However, I don’t think anyone wants to see this community fail, and this is part of the infrastructure that makes it successful,” she added.
Initially, the board was planning to have each ballot question stand alone, and not be contingent on each other.
However, after several people voiced concern about voter confusion, the resolution was amended to include a contingency for the second question.
“We’re trying to minimize unintended consequences,” Baker said.
“If people strongly want an increase, they might only vote for the second one, and not vote for the first one,” Delano resident Alysia Zens added, explaining the rationale for contingency.
People who live within the district are encouraged to contact the school board for more information about the levy.
“If you walk into the ballot booth cold, you’re not going to make an informed decision,” Superintendent Dr. John Sweet said. “People don’t like to be bothered with voting, yet in other countries, they’re dying to do it.”
A low-spending district
According to data from the school, the Delano district spends less per pupil ($8,268) than any of its neighboring districts, and almost $2,000 less than the state average.
If the levy doesn’t pass this year, it will mean drastic cuts in the district, according to Johnson.
“Start thinking bankruptcy,” she said. “That’s such a hard place to come up from. I think none of us want to see that happen.”