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Brainerd High School students Miles Pearson (left) and Nick Welch, along with De

Voters to answer levy questions

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news Brainerd, 56401
Brainerd MN 506 James St. / PO Box 974 56401

The answers are as simple as yes or no.

Or yes yes, no no or yes no, to be more specific.

Brainerd School District voters will head to the polls Tuesday to cast a ballot to support or not support two school operating levy questions.

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The first question asks for a renewal of the district’s expiring $199.24 per pupil operating levy, a 10-year levy. If this question passes, it will not result in new taxes.

The second question asks for an additional $200 per pupil operating levy, a 5-year levy. The first question must pass in order for the second question to pass.

The tax impact of the second question passing would be about a $4.68 per month increase, or $56.10 a year on the average home valued at $144,300; and about a $8.82 per month increase, or $105.83 a year on the average commercial property valued at $272,200.

Passage of the first question allows the district to preserve the programs and services it has now for the next 10 years. If the second question also passes, it will provide the district with stable funding for at least five years to prevent additional cuts of about $1.37 million.

If the first question passes and the second question fails, the district will need to make more than $1 million in budget cuts. This could involve a combination of increasing class sizes, eliminating 30 teacher and support staff positions and increasing fees and/or eliminating sports and activities.

If both questions fail, the district will need to make more than $2 million in budget cuts. This could include increasing class sizes, cutting 30-50 teacher and support staff positions, increasing fees and/or eliminating sports and activities and saving transportation costs by expanding the no busing zone from one mile to two miles to school.

The state average local operating levy is $936 per student. Brainerd’s current operating levy is $199.24 per student.

“What we’re trying to do with our levy is to protect what we have and the funds that we are requesting through the first and second questions are intended to support and maintain our current class sizes and our current variety of comprehensive programming,” said Superintendent Steve Razidlo. “We also have some very important targeted supports for struggling learners and some great academic opportunities that we want to hang on to. It’s our belief we need both questions to hang on to the level of quality and opportunities we have for our students.”

Board chair Jim Hunt said his hope is that passage of the levies will allow the district to get beyond the point of having to make major budget cuts all the time.

“The district is at a tipping point,” Hunt explained. “If we pass it we’ll maybe hold and inch up a bit where we aren’t cutting and we can start to focus on education. What we do here Tuesday is going to affect generations of kids down the road. I know that we need to live within our means. I know we have pockets of unemployment but we also know we can’t create a loss of quality education or it’s going to get worse, not better.”

The district is one of 113 school districts in the state, or about 35 percent of districts, asking voters for levy requests on Tuesday.

Steve Lund, director of business services, said those levy questions range in amounts from $1 to $2,000 per student with an average “total ask” amount by these 113 districts of $702, with a similar median amount of $700.

Lund said that while it may be a record number of districts seeking levy support, it is nowhere near a record dollar amount. He believes more districts are requesting local funding to help fill their budget gaps because of the reduced funding increases by the state and delays in state aid payments to districts. But these districts are still asking for far less than previous years, which Lund said may be a sign of the times in which we are living.

“Such is the case in Brainerd,” said Lund. “We know that the total $399.24 ($199.24 renewal and $200 additional levy) amount from both questions does not completely fill our projected budget gap, but the school board is balancing the local revenue request with continued budget reductions and efficiencies to best manage our finances during a challenging time for all of us.”

Ninety percent of Minnesota school districts in 2011 have local operating levies. From this list, Brainerd Schools’ existing levy of $199.24 per pupil is currently ranked 278th, or 24th from the bottom within the bottom 8 percent, said Lund. If both levy questions pass, the district will rise to the 46th from the bottom at 256 of the 302 districts and will then be in the bottom 15 percent.

For more information on the levy, visit the district’s website, www.isd181.org, and click on the large blue starburst on the main page.

JODIE TWEED may be reached at jodie.tweed@brainerddispatch.com or 855-5858.

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