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District 518 approves levy increase

The District 518 board office.

WORTHINGTON — The Worthington Independent School District 518 Board of Education gave the nod Tuesday to a 2018 actual levy slightly less than a million dollars more than last year’s figure.

The board’s unanimous approval of the $5,313,057.38 levy, which will fund school year 2018-2019, came after its truth in taxation hearing Tuesday evening. The hearing included an in-depth presentation about the district’s taxes and how they’re utilized.

Last year’s actual levy was set at $4,849,257.

With possible credits applied, including Ag2School and disparity credits, this year’s net levy amounts to $4,887,176, compared to last year’s $4,726,933. The difference is an approximately 3.4 percent increase. However, for comparison purposes, without the Ag2School credit, this year’s net levy would be $5,190,733, or an increase of approximately 9.7 percent.

According to Superintendent John Landgaard, an increase in the levy will primarily help fund two areas.

For one, Landgaard said the Minnesota Department of Education made an error last year in not allowing the district to levy for its debt service. The error is causing the district to pay what would have been financed over a two-year period in one year.

An increased levy will also allow the district to pay off three outstanding bonds early beginning in 2019.

The board approved transferring approximately $2.4 million Tuesday night to establish a Committed Fund Balance to pay off A, C and D bonds that were purchased for the middle school expansion in 2010 and for energy efficiency upgrades of both the middle school and high school. Committing funds to pay off those bonds will ultimately have a positive effect on taxpayers, as it gets the bonds off the tax levy rolls, Landgaard said.

School board clerk Joel Lorenz added that people’s proposed tax statements likely reflect a higher number, as they’re based on the set maximum levies of all taxing authorities.  

“When that proposed (tax statement) comes out, people get excited and it’s higher than they should be,” Lorenz said.

The board also opened the floor to public comment following its truth in taxation hearing. Tom Prins asked the board why an increase in taxes is necessary this year when the district had an approximately $5.1 million revenue gain last year.

“Why not hold flat for a year?” he asked. “It looks to me you guys are just building a big surplus and keep taxing the school district. Let’s give the taxpayers of Nobles County a break for one year.”

Landgaard said the district’s revenues and expenditures can vary from year to year for a variety of reasons.

“Sometimes we gain more than we expect,” he said, adding that the board’s decisions on refinancing and paying off bonds were approved with taxpayer relief in mind.

In other board business, the board took the next step in potentially adopting short- and long-term solutions to district-wide overcrowding should the upcoming referendum fail.

The board moved to allow administration to begin planning for increasing class sizes as a short-term solution beginning with the 2019-2020 school year. As necessary, it would then begin planning to transition to a year-round class instruction structure to use buildings at a larger capacity. New board member Mike Harberts was the lone “no” vote, citing inadequate time to obtain research necessary to make a determination.

The options were two of several itemized on a list of possible solutions, which also included setting a minimum number of students per class in the high school, closing open enrollment, adding modulars or moving fourth-graders to the West Learning Center, which the board has been attempting to eliminate from future planning due to the facility’s age and cost requirements to keep it a viable option.

After a lengthy discussion regarding the motion’s meaning, it was clarified that it didn’t mean the school district absolutely adopt the resolutions. The board could later determine an option to be not feasible based on logistics, financial concerns and other considerations, Landgaard said.

However, board members wanted to begin directing their attention — and the public’s — to the possibilities.

“We have to have some kind of plan where we’re going to go — we can’t sit here and not do nothing,” said board member Linden Olson, who made the motion. “We’ve got to narrow it down, and those two (class sizes and year-round schooling) are the prime options that will work.”

Board treasurer Brad Shaffer and Lorenz agreed that the public should prepare and become aware of possible solutions.

“I think voters need to know where our focus is going to be if the referendum fails,” Shaffer said.

The board had a new face at the table Tuesday evening. Harberts, who won November’s school board election, added discussion on regular agenda items. Harberts also listed off a handful of other issues relating to the ALC/Gymnastics facility, taxes and finances. He said many want more information on the ALC/Gymnastics facility, including its funding source, the repayment schedule and an explanation of the lease-levy.

“People are confused with this, and some people are confusing this with the referendum,” Harberts said.

He recommended the district address those questions and publish an article in the paper.

In other school board business, the board

  • Paused the regular meeting to hold the state-mandated public comment opportunity on the district’s review and comment document, which Landgaard said received a positive review on the proposed $68.5 million high school. One public comment was made.

“Why in the world do we need two high schools in Worthington, Minnesota,” asked Don Brink, Worthington Citizens for Progress co-chair. “Why, when we spent more than $5 million on this beautiful (current high school).”

  • Heard a presentation on the EDGE program at Prairie Elementary by coordinator Barry Fischer. Of those enrolled in the academic after-school program, 70 percent are Hispanic and 12 percent Asian. Eighty-five percent are also English Language Learners, and another 15 percent in special education.
  • Recognized community education staff for the development of #Market Smarter, an annual one-day event dedicated to addressing how to market smarter for online presence and sales growth. The program received an award at the 2017 Minnesota Community Education Association Awards in October.
  • Appointed election judges for the Feb. 13, 2018 referendum. The 18 election judges will be led by co-heads Bernice Camery and Jim Laffrenzen.
  • Approved leasing the district’s approximately 111 tillable acres to the highest bidder, Caleb Fellows, at $217 per acre for 2018.
  • Approved a resolution to reallocate general education revenue for fiscal year 2018 from the building level to the district-wide level for the expenditures in various areas, including school board operations, district publications, office of the special programs director, district-wide operations and maintenance, business services, district-wide special ed staff, data processing district-wide staff development, office of the superintendent, curriculum and assessment, loan interest inter-district cooperation, technology support, district-wide operating capital, health services, police liaison/crime prevention, transportation and property/casualty insurance.

Harberts abstained, citing lack of knowledge.

  • Set a board reorganizational meeting for 7 a.m. Jan. 8 at the District 518 Administrative Building and a 7:30 a.m. Jan. 25 meeting to approve bids for the ALC/Gymnastics building.
Alyssa Sobotka

Alyssa joined The Globe in July 2017 and covers education and crime beats. The Nebraska native earned her bachelor's degree in journalism from the University of Nebraska at Kearney. In her own sarcastic tone, her blog, Aimlessly Navigating, recounts the reality, pitfalls and triumphs of a young 20-something navigating to maturity. Follow her on Twitter: @alyssasobotka

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