By ryan mcgaughey

Daily globe

ELLSWORTH -- Voters in Ellsworth School District No. 514 shouldn't see much of an impact on their pocketbook if they approve an operating levy referendum next week, the chair of the district's Board of Education said Tuesday.

Jeff Boltjes, who is in his fifth year and second term of service on the board, indicated the proposed operating levy essentially replaces one that's expired.

"We're basically just renewing our old referendum," Boltjes said. "We're just looking to continue as we are."

Ellsworth's new referendum asks for $573 per pupil unit, which would replace the previous $473-per-pupil-unit levy. The school board is asking for a five-year package that would begin in 2006.

Local taxpayers would contribute 14 cents on the dollar, compared to 86 cents provided by the state. John Widvey, a former District 518 superintendent now serving as financial consultant for Ellsworth Schools, told the Daily Globe last month that about $38 per year would be placed on $60,000 market value property.

Should the new operating levy referendum not be approved, board members would almost certainly need to examine possible cuts to school programs, Boltjes said.

"We have all-day, every-day kindergarten, and we have upper-level classes that students are able to get college credits for," he stated. "The other thing is that we have small class sizes, which is great for students. We would probably need to look at increasing class sizes."

Boltjes added that the financial situation is by no means dire -- at the moment, anyway.

"We do have some money set aside for future expenses. Over the next couple of years we're looking at replacing our boilers, so that's a major expense," he said.

"There's not an urgent need, but we're trying to get a five-year plan together so we can anticipate our major needs."

The board hosted a public meeting in September that drew nearly 30 people, and another informational session was scheduled for Tuesday night.

Besides Ellsworth, Round Lake and Brewster schools are asking to increase the existing $889-per-pupil-unit levy to $1,500 per-pupil-unit, while Luverne is seeking an increase from $455 to $700. Worthington District 518 is hoping voters will approve a new, five-year, $900-per-pupil-unit operating referendum.

"At least 90 percent of the school districts in Minnesota run on operating referendums," Boltjes said. "As for us ... we're really not asking for a large increase or decrease. We've set up a curriculum that kids respond to, and we want to maintain that."