BRAINERD SCHOOL BOARD: 2-part referendum finalized
The Brainerd School Board in a special meeting late Tuesday afternoon voted to ask taxpayers a two-part operating levy question this fall.
The first question, a 10-year levy, will seek a renewal of the district's $199.24 per pupil operating levy. The second question, which took the board an hour to decide Tuesday, will ask for an additional $200 per pupil operating levy, a 5-year levy, to help financially stabilize the district and soften future cuts.
If both questions pass on Nov. 8, the total would be a $399 per pupil levy.
If both questions are approved, they will help bring financial stability to the district but won’t eliminate the need for more budget cuts. Board members grappled with the need for additional funding and the economic reality that the community is facing. This is why board members decided the length of the second levy would be five, not 10, years.
Steve Lund, director of business services, said for the district to achieve financial solvency, meaning no additional budget cuts would be necessary, a $600 per pupil operating levy would be needed. If the first $199.24 per pupil question passes, taxpayers will see no increase in their taxes since it would be a renewal of the existing levy. This levy generates about $2 million for the district.
Lund said if the second question also is approved, the total additional revenue for the district would be about $3.5 million. The district is able to capture state equity funds with the first question, but not the second question, which is why the generated revenue is higher with the first.
The district is facing about a $4 million deficit by 2012-13. If the first question passes, that deficit decreases to about $2 million. If both questions pass, the board still will need to make about $500,000 in budget reductions or deficit spend using its unreserved fund balance.
Board chair Jim Hunt said if it were solely up to him he would rather go with one question but with a larger amount. However, he was supportive of whatever board members decided together.
“The one thing that bothers me is the base amount,” said Hunt. “I’m thinking, personally, the base amount needs to be more than what we’ve had. We know it’s not enough to cover what our needs are. We know we can’t get $600 and I’m not interested in that. I think we need a higher base amount to get to where our needs are.”
Board member Chris Robinson said in the present political environment, it seems it would increase the odds of renewing the expiring $199.24 per pupil levy by placing it as the first question on the ballot since this will not be an increase in school taxes.
“I’m OK with that, but it doesn’t meet the need,” responded Hunt. “It doesn’t get there, it doesn’t come close to it. I think we need to have a little faith in our community. I believe our community will step up if we’re honest and truthful about what we need to get down the road.”
Both board members Reed Campbell and Ruth Nelson said they supported a baseline levy renewal of $199.24 per pupil as the first question.
Superintendent Steve Razidlo said personally he believed the board should go with one levy question asking for $399 per pupil. He said he was concerned a two-part question would be confusing to some. He said the administrative recommendation from his staff was asking for an additional $200 per pupil as the second question, which is what board members approved.
Razidlo said the additional $200 per pupil levy would help maintain reasonable class sizes and provide minimal disruption to students. It would also soften the budget cuts the district will need to make. Razidlo said the district needs to take a balanced approach to the district’s current financial situation, through a combination of budget cuts, additional revenues and maintaining expenditures.
“We believe the community is best served when we secure and stabilize the system,” said Razidlo. “District staff have never worked harder. After years of cuts and continuing to get great results in science, (Minnesota Comprehensive Assessments and other assessment tests), they are tiring of apologizing for wanting to maintain excellence. ... We know asking this of our community at this time is extremely difficult. We’re not trying to compare ourselves with Hopkins or Edina, but we’re trying to maintain stability and security.”
“This isn’t about comparing ourselves with Edina. This is about comparing ourselves with Brainerd, with what we were and what we will be, and I think that’s a significant question,” said board member Kent Montgomery.
Board member Tom Haglin said he spoke with several key community business leaders, who were supportive of supporting whatever the board decided to do.
Board members decided to make the second levy expire in five years, or after two two-year Legislature funding cycles in hopes that lawmakers will pay back the districts the money they borrowed to balance the state’s budget by delaying aid payments to districts. The Brainerd district receives about $55 million in state aid payments each year. During the past three years, the state has delayed about $16 million in payments to the Brainerd district.
“It also has the effect of offering some goodwill to the community, we’re only asking for a short duration,” Razidlo said of the shortened length of the proposed second levy question.
“We’re only asking taxpayers what we feel we need for the time period we think is necessary,” added Robinson. “It will give the Legislature some time to get their budget in order.”
JODIE TWEED may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 855-5858.