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School board sets referendum

WORTHINGTON -- A $1,000 per-pupil-unit operating referendum was approved on a 4-3 vote Wednesday morning by the District 518 Board of Education.

The levy, to be voted upon by Worthington-area residents in November, will be eight years in length.

The length of the 2006 referendum was set early during Wednesday's special meeting. Deliberation on its size split along narrow lines, with some board members favoring what they saw as the district's need and others concerned that a figure too large might not survive in the fall. Lowell Nystrom, Steve Schnieder, Lori Dudley and Linden Olson voted for the $1,000 number. Bob Jirele, Joel Lorenz and Joel Wiltrout voted against it.

While debating the size of the referendum, board members indicated they'd received no strong sentiments from the public -- leaving them essentially to form their own opinions.

"I think we need $1,100, but I'm concerned about that not passing," Dudley said.

Olson said he supported $1,000 or $1,100 per pupil unit.

"I think in the long term, we need to look at the schools as a source of community pride and not one where we don't feel our kids deserve the best that we could provide for them," he said. "I think we have to look at what we're really saying if we go for the lower dollar amount."

Jirele and Wiltrout expressed concerns about the politics involved.

"I just want the board to remember that there's a segment of the population that are looking at whether their taxes are going to go up $50 or $100. ... Therefore, I support the $900," Jirele said.

"I won't vote for $1,000," Wiltrout said. "For a great number of these people, it's dollars and cents. And you need a majority of these people to pass this. I have a couple of concerns. One is, I don't know if we need $1,000. And I also don't know if it will pass. And if it doesn't pass, we're in big trouble."

Last year, District 518 approved sending a five-year, $900 per pupil unit referendum to local voters. It was rejected, with 1,575 voting in favor and 1,921 voting against.

The failure of the referendum led to $526,333 in reductions for the 2006-2007 budget. Cuts are expected to become more severe for 2007-2008 in the event of a failed 2006 referendum.

Nystrom said Wednesday he favored the $1,000 figure, though he warned that the referendum's success depends largely upon public trust in the school board. Schnieder said that a figure less than $1,000 risks giving the public the "wrong" impression that District 518 doesn't need the money.

Lorenz recommended caution.

"Like it or not, there is a number that will kill it if we go high enough," he said.

Upon passing the $1,000 figure, board members approved hiring the consulting firm of Schroeder Communications of Delano -- at a cost not to exceed $6,000 -- to disseminate information to the public regarding the 2006 vote.

Doug Wolter

Doug Wolter is the Daily Globe sports editor. He served as sports reporter, then sports editor, news editor and finally managing editor at the Daily Globe for 22 years before leaving for seven years to work as night news editor at the Mankato Free Press in Mankato. Doug now lives in Worthington with his wife, Sandy. They have three children and seven grandchildren. Doug, retired after a lengthy career in fast-pitch softball, enjoys reading, strumming his acoustic guitar and hanging around his grandchildren. He also writes books on fiction. Two of his stories, "The Genuine One" and "The Old Man in Section 129" have been distributed through a national publisher.

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