H-BC and Mountain Lake to vote on referendum
HILLS -- In 1971, the Minnesota state legislature passed the "Minnesota Miracle" giving school district s the ability to levy, with voter approval, additional funds to cover general district operating costs.
Voters in two local school districts, Mountain Lake and Hills-Beaver Creek (H-BC), will be voting on referendum levies next week.
In recent years, H-BC has taken out loans to cover their operating expenses. Their unrestricted general fund balance has seen an increase of an average of $150,000 in debt annually. In 2011, the district's debt was $330,000 and it is projected to be $480,000 in 2012.
A fund balance, which is different from a cash balance, is the measure of past resource management and future spending power and is an indicator of a district's financial position.
If a district experiences low or negative fund balances, other means of income are needed and most commonly districts must borrow additional money to meet cash flow needs.
To control their deficit, the H-BC Board of Education has reduced spending by approximately $250,000 in 2012. This included a soft-freeze for employee pay, added administrative control over the district's spending, reductions to staffing positions, staff member training and material purchasing.
Additional changes are proposed for the 2013 budget, which primarily included a reduction of personnel and hours worked.
H-BC cites the Minnesota state government's current method of payment as part of the district's cash flow problems.
State aid money is only paid partially during the fiscal year. The rest is paid the following year. Currently, the district operates with 60 percent of state monies paid to the district and 40 percent withheld.
"In essence, there is a lack of revenue and our expenses have escalated," Todd Holthaus, H-BC superintendent said.
The district's current operating referendum was set in 2005 and is $855.79 per pupil. The proposed referendum would revoke the previous one and replace it with a $1,521.00 per pupil.
The referendum would generate approximately $250,000 in additional levy funds for the district and would be in place for the next 10 years, unless revoked or changed by district voters.
If the referendum is passed, the district anticipates being able to get out of statutory operating debt over the next 3 to 5 years.
Tax dollars would be collected in 2013 and the district would begin to see the effects of the funds in the 2013-2014 school year, said Hothaus.
Other ways the district proposes to use referendum monies include building an unreserved fund to weather unforeseen expenses, maintaining an appropriate teacher to student classroom ratio, maintaining facility and curriculum and staff development.
Two informational meetings were held in November to answer the public's question.
"I was very pleased with the turn out to the informational meetings and the questions were very good. People asked good questions. They just want to know why we are asking for the referendum," Holthaus said.
If the proposed referendum is not passed, the district will look at further reductions to programming and operations which could affect the district's competitive edge with neighboring districts.
"There will probably be further reductions in the district," Holthaus said.
H-BC, which has about 340 students in the district, will conduct its special election on Tuesday from 5 to 8 p.m. Absentee voting began on Nov. 16, and will continue until the day of the election.
Mountain Lake will be voting on a facilities referendum for the school on Monday. Poling hours will be from 4 to 8 pm. Absentee ballots may be picked up in the superintendent's office during school business hours until the day before the election.
The Mountain Lake ballot will contain two yes or no questions. The first question is a requisition for a building bond not to exceed $29,020,000 to demolish outdated parts of the school building, repair, remodel, and upgrade and construct improvements of existing school sites and facilities.
The money will also be used to improve classrooms, educational and community spaces, improve auditorium and athletic facilities and to acquire and install improved technology and technology system.
The second question is contingent on the first and is for an additional general obligation bond for $825,000 for the repair and renovation of the swimming pool and related facilities and for the construction and equipping of a band and choir addition.
Both ballot questions, if approved, would result in a 20-year bond being issued and a levy on Mountain Lake School District residents' property taxes to pay for the bond. If both ballot questions are passed, the district will raise a total of $29,845,000.
If passed, the 1890, 1920, and 1930 sections of the building would be demolished.
Proposed updates in the new building include added classroom space, upgraded science classrooms and labs, upgraded technical education areas, upgraded special education classrooms, a media center, new band and choir rooms, and a new athletic complex with a competition-sized gymnasium, weight and fitness rooms and boys and girls locker rooms.
To develop the proposed plan, more than 100 educators, students and citizens share their opinions and ideas. After considering a series of options, the Mountain Lake School Board selected the most viable strategy.
While building a completely new building was suggested, it was felt that the cost of the plan reached beyond what the community reasonably could provide.
The plan chosen will address the heating, cooling, mechanical and technology issues that were affecting the school and give the district added classroom space.
According to the Mountain Lake school district website, failing to pass the referendum will cause the district problems over time and the plan presented is the right solution for meeting the needs of the community and future generations.
Daily Globe Reporter Alyson Buschena may be reached at