School districts mull levies
WINDOM — Worthington’s District 518 schools are not alone in southwest Minnesota in seeking a new operating levy referendum this fall.
Voters in both the Windom and Ellsworth school districts will go to the polls Nov. 5 to decide on levy referendums. In Windom, school board officials opted to ask voters to continue supporting the district at its current levels.
“We want to make sure people understand that this is not an increase — we are asking for a renewal,” School Board Clerk Rick Frederickson said. “This is just for our tax levy, not including the county or city, but from our standpoint people’s real estate taxes won’t go up, and some could decrease slightly.”
Due to changes in state law, local taxpayer levies from the school district would remain stable or decrease slightly should the existing referendum of $1,137.41 per pupil unit be renewed.
If passed, the current operating levy for Windom school district would be renewed for another seven years.
Since the 2007-2008 referendum vote, Windom has added 10 teachers to the district, increased its preschool classes from 16 weeks to 32 weeks, established four new K-5 classes to reduce class size and added four college courses available for high school students.
“Windom really is a people business,” Frederickson said. “Since the last vote, we’ve focussed on what we need to do in the classroom to improve.”
If the current levy does not pass, the district would request another vote in 2014. In the event of a second no vote, the district would lose $1.4 million in revenue, Frederickson said.
The local levy contributes about 70 percent to the district’s funding and a ‘no’ vote would mean cutbacks for the district, he explained.
“We need to maintain stability in the district,” Frederickson said. “We still have to pay the bills and avoid borrowing money. We can’t have a negative fund balance, so cuts would be made.”
In addition to the Windom vote, the Ellsworth school district will ask for an increase in its operating levy.
District voters approved a $1,139-per-pupil-unit cost in 2010, but due to recent decline in student enrollment the district is asking voters to approve a figure of $1,845 — making it a $705 per pupil increase.
“As most of Minnesota knows, pupil numbers judge how much aid schools receive,” said John Widvey, financial consultant with the Ellsworth district. “We have seen a $300,000 decline in reserves for the past eight years, and we believe it’s going to continue.”
The Ellsworth district is urging voters to approve its long-range plan to keep money in the reserves to avoid cuts.
“Our plan is to keep reserves at hand,” Widvey said. “While our financial need is not immediate, we need to look at the whole operation.”
If reserves continue to decline, Ellsworth District could face personnel and program cuts in the future.
“We want to keep our programs in place, and we certainly do not want a personnel cut,” Widvey said. “If we have reserves, we will be able to weather the up-and-down financial storm.”
Voting in the Ellsworth school district will be from 4 to 8 p.m. Nov. 5 at the Ellsworth Elementary School library. For an absentee ballot, voters are asked to go to the Nobles County Auditor Treasure’s Office.
Voting in the Windom school district will take place from 2 to 8 p.m. in the lobby of the high school gymnasiums. Absentee voters are encouraged to call the district Office at (507) 831-6901.