Regional districts use voter referendums to cover funding holesThe Fosston (Minn.) Public School district is among 76 in the state this year asking voters to approve extra funds to maintain operations or pay for building projects, according to the Minnesota School Boards Association.
By: Jennifer Johnson, Grand Forks Herald
The Fosston (Minn.) Public School district is among 76 in the state this year asking voters to approve extra funds to maintain operations or pay for building projects, according to the Minnesota School Boards Association.
The district will be asking voters to approve a $1,160 per pupil operating referendum, the second year in a row it’s asked for such a levy, said Superintendent Mark Nohner on Friday. If voters don’t approve the request on Nov. 5, the district will be forced to cut staff members and eliminate programs, he said.
Seven districts in the state, including Fisher, will be asking voters for both operating and building bond levies.
Second time around
Last year, Fosston failed to pass a $1,300-per-pupil referendum, or $140 more than the one they’re asking for this year. The district currently collects $700 per pupil.
Now, because the state during the last legislative session decided to pick up a larger share of schools’ needs the district can ask for less, said Nohner.
He said his district, like others, have to hold referendums because of a multi-year freeze in school funding.
Minnesota’s recent payback of about $636 million to schools doesn’t go toward new teachers or programs, but instead will likely go toward paying back loans schools had borrowed to make up for the loss.
“We’ve been able to keep good teachers in front of our kids, and we’ve been able to hold on to most of our programs, but we’ve delayed a great deal of maintenance,” Nohner said. “You can only delay that for so long.”
He’s more confident the levy will pass this year, he said.
“There’s been a lot more talk around the community about the need for the referendum to pass,” he said. “We made several reductions this past year, about $180,000 worth. The board will probably make about $175,000 more in reductions if the referendum doesn’t pass this year.”
He said last year’s cuts were across the board, and this year would be similar. Residents have already been told the cuts would include three staff and faculty members, three coaches, two sports programs and reduced secretarial hours, he said.
Building additions, legislation
Fosston is one among a total 57 districts this year that are seeking operating levies, up 15 from last year. That’s the lowest total during an odd-numbered year since 1997, said Greg Abbott, communications director of the school board association.
Districts tend to hold referendums during odd-numbered years because during election years, people “don’t even pay attention to what’s going on locally,” he said.
Two years ago, a record 115 districts were seeking operating referendums, but most were renewing expired levies.
The total number of districts asking for bonding referendums this year is 26, the same amount as last year. Some schools may be building new elementary schools to relieve enrollment pressure.
With about half building additions to their elementary schools, Abbott said the state’s decision to pay for all-day kindergarten has likely had an effect. Districts that only offered the service part-time now have to double their space, he said.
“If you don’t have room in your elementary school, you’re going to need to add on or come up with some other idea to get kindergarteners in there,” he said.
Districts seeking an operating levy:
Crookston, Fisher, Fosston, Goodridge, Warroad, Warren-Alvarado-Oslo
Districts seeking a building bond/capital lease levy:
Call Johnson at (701) 787-6736; (800) 477-6572, ext. 1736; or send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.