The Brainerd School Board will seek an operating levy referendum on Nov. 8.
The board Monday authorized school officials to draft a resolution that includes a two-part ballot question. The first question will ask taxpayers to renew the district’s expiring $199.24 per pupil operating levy.
The second question will ask for an additional levy amount. That amount has not yet been determined.
The board called for a special board meeting at 4:30 p.m. Aug. 23 in the Washington Educational Services Building board room to vote on a levy amount for the second question. The board has to decide by Aug. 26 if the district plans to seek an operating levy to be placed on the Nov. 8 general election ballot.
Board members agreed that the levy questions would not have an inflationary factor attached to them.
While board members also agreed the first question should be a 10-year levy, they were undecided about the second question and discussed having the second levy question expire earlier.
Board member Chris Robinson suggested that since the Legislature had put the district “in a pickle” by delaying its aid payments to balance the state’s budget, requiring the district to borrow funds itself, that the second levy could expire in about 5-6 years.
“Perhaps with that second portion we do a five-year or six-year period when the Legislature perhaps gets its house in order and we get that shift collected,” said Robinson.”
“Then the economy turns around,” added board chair Jim Hunt.
Board members heard from Brainerd Community Education director Judy Jenson, who provided a summary of the feedback the district received at its four community listening sessions related to a proposed levy.
Nearly 200 district residents attended the four listening sessions, including 25 residents at Brainerd High School, 75 residents at Washington, 60 residents at Forestview and 30 residents at Nisswa Elementary.
Meeting participants were offered an optional survey to provide feedback about the district’s levy scenarios, which ranged from not renewing the $199.24 expiring levy to a $399 per pupil levy.
The most frequent responses fell into these five broad categories:
• “Brainerd Schools have been a leader in the state. We need to stay competitive through quality programming. Education is the key to our community’s future.”
• “The levy options presented are not high enough to prevent further reduction.”
• “Brainerd’s local economy continues to struggle. Shared sacrifice is needed on behalf of district staff and taxpayers.”
• “We want additional levy money to be used to directly benefit students.”
• “The district needs to contin-ue to give the community more options beyond one question.”
Of those who attended the sessions, 117 people provided feedback. The Brainerd Lakes Chamber also conducted a survey of its membership. Of the 500 members, the chamber had 79 responses in two days. They also were provided a link to the listening session presentation.
Steve Lund, director of business services, said of those combined total responses, 92 percent said they would support at least a $199 per pupil operating levy or more, 79 percent said they’d support at least a $249 per pupil levy or more, 70 percent would support at least a $299 per pupil levy or more, 57 percent would support at least a $349 per pupil levy or more and 48 percent said they would support a $399 per pupil levy.
Board member Reed Campbell said he would like to see the second levy question used for a specific use. Superintendent Steve Razidlo said the more specific the district gets, the more the district will have to show the state Department of Education that the district has followed those patterns as described. This could mean budget cuts in other areas.
“$399 (per pupil levy) just softens the cuts that we have to make,” said board member Tom Haglin. “Perhaps we can identify some of the cuts we wouldn’t have to do. Even with this, we have to make additional cuts.”
“I think if we tie some of this amount to a specific issue or thing, it’s going to limit us in the future,” added Hunt. “It could make us make cuts in the future.”
“I’m all for keeping the ballot as simple as possible,” said board member Ruth Nelson.
The survey results, as well as all the comments by those who attended the listening sessions, were expected to be available for viewing on the district’s website, www.isd181.org, by Tuesday morning.
JODIE TWEED may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 855-5858.