Two levy questions posed

by Jim Boyle

The Elk River Area School Board approved its plans for an operating levy renewal and a second levy question at a regular meeting Monday at Westwood Elementary School in Zimmerman.

The first question will ask voters to renew a $386 per student annual operating levy that is scheduled to expire in 2013. It would be used to maintain existing programs.

The School Board’s second operating levy question takes into account the potential $5 million financial cliff that’s projected for the 2013–14 school year. Passage of the second question, which would provide $400 per student or about $6 million annually for the next 10 years, will require passage of the renewal question and majority support of the question itself.

This levy would have four functions:

•It would add the all day, everyday kindergarten at a cost of $2.2 million annually.

•It would create a $400,000 revenue stream to expedite the curriculum review process to make what currently runs on an 11-year cycle run on a seven-year cycle.

•It would create a $400,000 revenue stream to support present and future curriculum needs by the possible purchase of iPads, computers, software, Tag readers and other technology-based items.

•And, it would create a $3 million revenue stream for current and future operating expenses.

Passage of the renewal levy will not result in new taxes. The second question will; however, the School Board decided earlier this month not to include an inflationary factor into either of the two ballot questions.

Even with successful passage of both questions, the school district still figures it will have a $1.9 million deficit to knock down for the 2013–14 school year.

The Elk River Area School Board will be asked to begin that process this school year.

Superintendent Mark Bezek called the levy renewal critical to the future of the school district’s funding.

“We have been very good financial stewards for our taxpayers,” he stated in a press release. “We are trying to address the needs of the district and place the wants on hold for better financial times.”

The superintendent said the second question is imperative as part of the district’s new Strategic Plan.

Bezek noted that the past three years the district has had legislation introduced to address financial inequity for the state’s eighth largest district.

“We have done our part with budget reductions and Legislature initiatives, but now we as a district and community are at a critical juncture for the future of all learners,” he said.

The district has three existing levies, two of which were renewed in 2008 and 2010. The third — the largest of the three 10-year levies — was approved in 2003. By going to the voters this November, District 728 has two opportunities for passage before the levy expires.

Without a successful renewal this fall, school board members said that budget cuts will need to be prepared after the coming school year to brace for the potential loss in revenue, because there would be no guarantees of passing a renewal in the fall of 2013.

Randy Anderson, executive director of business services, has presented plans to limit the tax impact of the second question by 30 percent. He’s also shown ways to create capacities to pay for future building projects through alternative facilities bonds and/or bond referendums that would not increase taxes beyond existing levels.

Anderson can do this by refinancing debt in a way that pushes it off until some of the district bonds are paid off and it has more capacity to pay down referendums.

Purpose of operating levies

Question 1

•Renew existing levy that will expire in 2013

Question 2

•Add a levy to cover future operational expenses (in response to projected deficit) as well as add an all-day, everyday kindergarten program, expedite curriculum review process from 11 years up to seven and provide for additional technology in the classroom.