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Vote near for Fulda schools

FULDA -- Voters in Fulda School District 505 will go to the polls on Dec. 1 to decide whether to approve a 10-year, $2,300 per pupil operating referendum.

FULDA - Voters in Fulda School District 505 will go to the polls on Dec. 1 to decide whether to approve a 10-year, $2,300 per pupil operating referendum.
Before the vote, however, the second of two public meetings will be 7 p.m. Monday at the Fulda High School library.
School Superintendent Luther Onken said more than 75 people attended the first public meeting, with good discussion about the proposed tax increase.
Because the district had allowed its previous two operating referendums to expire, taxpayers will see a sizable increase in school taxes, based on the estimated market value of their property.
For property valued at $50,000, the tax impact would be $352 in 2016; for a $100,000 property, taxes would be $704; and for a $200,000 property would be taxed $1,408 in 2016. To see other estimated market value and tax comparisons, visit http://bit.ly/1QTTZjn .
What Onken wants voters to keep in mind is that the difference between what they were paying for operating referendums in place in 2011 and what is being requested for 2016 aren’t too far apart. Back then, taxpayers had a $1,900 per pupil referendum in place. Compare that to the current $2,300 request and it’s a $400 difference.
“In 2012, we allowed the $900 (referendum) to expire, and in 2014 we allowed the $1,000 (referendum) to expire, so actually we didn’t have one in place - other than the $300 that was board-approved and the $424 LOR (Local Optional Revenue referendum),” Onken explained. 
As the first referendum expired, Onken said the Fulda School Board had a lot of discussion about whether to renew it.
“At that time, our fund balance … was quite adequate,” he said. “We were probably between $2.5 to $3 million with our fund balance. 
“The board didn’t feel they could justify going back to the taxpayers with that large fund balance and ask for more money again or to re-up the $900,” he added. “The same thought process went into play when the $1,000 came to expire in 2014. They knew we would have to go back to the public, but at that time they felt we were able to give the taxpayers a break for four years.”
Onken also wants voters to know that the requested $2,300-per-pupil referendum is only for operating costs.
“We’re not building, we’re not expanding, not doing anything other than just to maintain,” Onken said.
Knowing that, it’s difficult to think about what might happen if the operating referendum is denied by voters.
Onken said based on the current enrollment of 340 students, a failed referendum would mean cuts of $760,000-plus.
“We don’t know where we’d come up with that,” he said.
The district has two sections of kindergarteners and two sections of first-graders, but all other elementary grades are just one section in size. The high school has about one and a half to two sections, he added.
“As far as staffing (cuts), it would be tough,” Onken said. “Roughly about 73 percent of our budget is for personnel - salaries.
“If you’re going to have to find that kind of reduction, that’s where it would be,” he added. “We don’t have a way to reduce staff, so it would have to come in programs. I can’t really give you specifics because I don’t want to have to. It would be cause for some real deep cuts.”
To bridge the funding gap, Onken said the school district sold tax anticipation bonds, collecting dollars with the anticipation that state aid will come and the bonds will be paid back.
“Whatever we borrow has to be repaid within one year,” Onken said. “That’s not a long-term solution.
“This (referendum) is our solution to keep the school active and in the community,” he said.
Ballots were mailed to registered voters in the district Monday, and as of Friday, Onken said some have yet to receive them. Because of the time it’s taken to receive the ballots, he encourages voters to fill them out and mail them back to the district as soon as possible. Mailed ballots must be received by the district by Dec. 1, or they become null and void.
Voters also have the option of voting at the polls between 5 and 8 p.m. Dec. 1 inside the west lobby of the Fulda High School.
Onken said if voters have questions they should attend the meeting or call the district office.
“(The referendum) is an effort to keep a viable, sound school system in Fulda,” he said. “It’s for the students. It’s for the community.”

Related Topics: EDUCATION
Julie Buntjer became editor of The Globe in July 2021, after working as a beat reporter at the Worthington newspaper since December 2003. She has a bachelor's degree in agriculture journalism from South Dakota State University.
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