Budget cuts likely after failed Aitkin school levy

“In the near future we’ll have to look at some budget cuts, budget reductions and staff reductions and things like that to make our ends meet and evaluate where we’re at."

Aitkin water tower
Aitkin voters will decide on a capital projects levy for the school district during the 2020 election. Brainerd Dispatch file photo

Aitkin School District residents voted down a capital levy request for $5 million over the next 10 years to help fund technology and transportation needs, meaning more budget cuts are likely in the district’s future.

As of 5 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 4, 2,965 voters were cast against the levy with 2,818 in favor, meaning the ballot effort failed by a margin of just 147 votes.

“I thought we had a good plan that was shared with the community and I thought we laid out our needs, particularly in technology and transportation,” Superintendent Dan Stifter said Wednesday. “I’m disappointed obviously but respect the results of the election. As a school we’ll move forward and work hard to best serve our students in these ever-changing times.”

The levy requested an extra $500,000 a year for the next 10 years. Of that sum, $450,000 would have gone toward the purchase, replacement, support and maintenance of technology, technology systems and software. The other $50,000 would have been allocated to purchasing new school buses and other transportation vehicles.

Technology funds would have helped maintain student MacBooks and iPads, along with 12 other technology areas: servers, wired network, wireless network, building security, server software, classroom software, interactive boards, audio, printing. Offsite backup and data protection, and battery powered backup systems. Specific upgrades include:


  • Upgrading infrastructure, including servers, cabling and Wi-Fi equipment.

  • Transitioning away from computer labs.

  • Replacing smart boards.

  • Maintaining equipment necessary for career and technical education programs.

In terms of transportation, the money would have helped the district buy one new bus every other year, with each bus costing about $100,000 after being outfitted with all the necessary equipment. The district runs 20-25 buses, which average anywhere from 60 to 100 miles a day, and has not been able to buy a new one in about five or six years. Not all buses in Aitkin had auxiliary heating systems installed when purchased, meaning in extreme cold temperatures, drivers can’t run both the defrost and the heat at the same time.
Stifter thanked everyone who took the time to learn about the levy and said he felt it was a cost-effective way to address the district’s needs.

“In the near future we’ll have to look at some budget cuts, budget reductions and staff reductions and things like that to make our ends meet and evaluate where we’re at,” he said.

With declining enrollment contributing to a dwindling budget, the district has already made cuts in recent years that include getting rid of the director of teaching and learning curriculum specialist, a part-time elementary music teacher and some paraprofessionals. Last year, the elementary schools went from four sections to three, reducing the number of classroom teachers.

“It’s going to make some interesting times, that’s for sure — some more interesting times, as if it’s not interesting enough already,” Stifter said.

THERESA BOURKE may be reached at or 218-855-5860. Follow her on Twitter at .
Theresa Bourke started working at the Dispatch in July 2018, covering Brainerd city government and area education, including Brainerd Public Schools and Central Lakes College.
What To Read Next
Get Local


Must Reads