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Voters keep Gary school bells ringing

A second grader walked up to Norman County East (Minn.) School District Superintendent Dean Krogstad Wednesday morning, shook his hand and said, "Thank you for saving my school."...

A second grader walked up to Norman County East (Minn.) School District Superintendent Dean Krogstad Wednesday morning, shook his hand and said, "Thank you for saving my school."

Voter approval of a referendum there Tuesday helped save the district's endangered elementary school in Gary, Minn., Krogstad said. School officials may have had to move the students in Gary to the junior and senior high school in Twin Valley, he said.

"It was huge for us here," Krogstad said.

More than half of the levy referendums sought by Minnesota school districts Tuesday passed, according to the Minnesota School Boards Association. Norman County East, East Grand Forks, Lake of the Woods, Goodridge and Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton passed referendums. Voters defeated measures sought in Red Lake Falls and Bemidji.

Norman County East's referendum passed with a 77 percent approval rate by a vote of 670 to 202, despite the fact that the school tax increase will be one of the highest in the area. And on top of that, many residents received notices about a week before the election that their taxes were going up to pay for sewer and water utilities, Krogstad said.


"This is going to show the state that the community is willing to support education," he said of the referendum approval rate. "Something has to change, (the state) can't continue to fund education the way they're funding it now."

Norman County East serves about 330 students, with 170 preschool through sixth graders at the elementary school in Gary and 160 at the high school in Twin Valley.

The levy increase will raise $400,000 each year for 10 years for the district. It will cost $312 more in property taxes per $100,000 in home value.

The money raised by the levy referendum's tax increase will go toward maintaining staff and programs, but the district will still need to cut about $170,000 from its budget, Krogstad said. The cuts are expected to come in the form of increased class sizes, which will mean the loss of some staff, he said.

Last year, the School Board cut seven staff positions. The district is currently in statutory operating debt, required to submit a financial plan to the state. This new levy referendum will supplement one the district already has that's set to expire in part this year, part in 2009 and 2012.

"I think there was just a sigh of relief on a lot of people," Krogstad said.

Red Lake Falls

Red Lake Falls Public Schools weren't as fortunate. The district's levy referendum failed by just four votes, 206-202.


Superintendent Joel Young said he watched as the ballots were counted four times. It's possible the School Board could call for a recount, but it's not likely, he said.

"The people here were making decisions," Young said. "It wasn't just that they sat back and let it go."

Voter turnout was high Tuesday in Red Lake Falls, which serves about 370 students. But with city and county taxes there projected to go up, taxpayers exercised their voice on school referendums because it's the only tax increase they get to vote on, Young said.

"Some of them just felt that that was going to be too big of a tax bite," he said. "They were thinking all taxes were going to be too high."

Red Lake Falls' levy referendum would have raised $347,000 each year for six years, costing voters $94 per $100,000 in home value.

The district's current levy is scheduled to expire in a year and the increase would have paid for basic costs such as replacing buses, vans and repairing the bus garage, Young said. Now, school officials are looking at about $150,000 in budget cuts, he said.

"At this point, we've stayed away from programs," Young said. "But I have no doubt it will be something we'll have to look at."

School officials aren't shy about their plans to ask voters again next year to approve a levy increase.


"Quite frankly, we'll take another run at it next year," Young said.

Lake of the Woods

A second go-around for Lake of the Woods levy referendum passed Tuesday.

Voters overwhelmingly approved the levy referendum 810-475, even though the same amount was defeated last fall.

Twice the number of voters came out for this election compared with last year, said Superintendent Steve Wymore.

"It was quite a command for our constituents," he said.

School officials plan to use the levy increase to first pay to prevent cutting staff and Advanced Placement, art and language classes. Other possible options include reinstating an elementary physical-education teacher, implementing all-day, everyday kindergarten, adding a second foreign language, adequately supporting athletic programs, investing in technology and maintain facilities, Wymore said.

The levy increase will raise $351,000 each year for 10 years for the district. It will cost $112 per $100,000 in home value.


"We're very fortunate to have a community that supports education," Wymore said.

Lake of the Woods serves about 580 students.


Bemidji voters defeated two levy increase options. The first option to renew the district's current levy went down 2,410 to 2,074; the second option to raise the levy failed 3,079 to 1,389.

The district's current levy is scheduled to expire next school year. Without additional funding, district officials say they won't be able to offer all-day, everyday kindergarten and class sizes will increase.

Renewing the levy would have paid for all-day, everyday kindergarten, buying new buses and class-size reductions, according to Superintendent Jim Hess. The optional increase above that amount would have paid for staff, technology and equipment, textbook replacement and school safety improvements, he said.

Renewing the levy would have raised $3 million each year for six years for the district. Increasing the levy would have raised $4.1 million for the same amount of time, costing $37 per $100,000 in home value.

Bemidji serves about 4,800 students.



Goodridge voters approved renewing the district's current levy 75-8, while Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton voters approved a levy increase by a 735 to 655 vote. Goodridge serves about 100 students. Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton serves about 350 students.

Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton's new levy will be used to maintain staff and programs, officials say. Last spring, the School Board cut several positions and programs, including cheerleading and cross-country, to address its deficit.

Ricker covers elementary and secondary education. Reach Ricker at (701) 780-1104, (800) 477-6572, ext. 104; or aricker@gfherald.com .

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