Dist. 728 passes on inflationary clauses to put best foot forward for levies

by Jim Boyle



The Elk River Area School Board fine tuned an administrative proposal for two operating levy questions they are considering for this fall’s general election.

Most  notably, school board members decided not to include inflationary increases to either the first question — a renewal of an existing levy that raises $386 per student and is scheduled to expire in 2013 — or the second — a plan to raise $400 per student annually for curriculum and technology as well as general operational expenses.

School board members wrestled with the knowledge that it makes sense to include inflationary increases when adding staff in the case of adding an all-day, everyday kindergarten program, but they noted that the reality is that voters may respond suspiciously or negatively to automatic inflationary increases.

School board members decided quickly not to include an inflationary clause to the renewal. There wasn’t one on the last one that will expire soon, and to include it would have required the ballot question reflect a tax increase.

They struggled to decide on what to do with the second question. The tax impact of adding the clause would be minimal, but some wondered if it would be a hurdle to explain. (The tax impact of the second levy question is shown at the right. The district plans to re-finance some its debt to mitigate 30 percent of the impact)

The school district has not successfully passed operating levies with such inflationary clauses in the past, according to Londa Chambers, the senior secretary for Superintendent Mark Bezek.

Shane Steinbrecher, Tony Walter, Sue Farber and Jane Bunting argued why would the district add a program it could conceivably not afford in the future. “I don’t buy something for my business unless I know I can afford it,” Steinbrecher said.

Others like School Board Chairwoman Jolene Jorgensen argued that there are so many variables that could impact the district’s financial position — positively or negatively — and the district would and could figure out a plan when the time comes.

“We’ll figure it out just like we always have donen,” said Jorgensen.

With an inflationary increase included, the second levy question would increase about 2 percent a year and by the end of the 10-year period it would generate about $479.35 per student. Jorgensen and Holly Thompson argued it’s not worth putting the entire question in jeopardy.

“I would rather get $400 (per student) than zero,” Thompson said.

Farber agreed with that.

School board members were split 3-3 at this point (Janelle Henry was absent due to a work conflict).

Jane Bunting was swayed after hearing other board members express a willingness to consider other cuts to protect the kindergarten program and technology pursuits.

“It’s about priorities,” said Jana Hennen-Burr, the assistant superintendent in charge of student services.

Bunting heard board members say their passion for improved technology, more up-to-date curriculum and especially for all-day, everyday kindergarten would translate into an ability to prioritize those things and make cuts elsewhere.

The Elk River Area School Board also decided to make passage of the second question contingent upon passage of the operating levy renewal.

In other words, if the operating renewal failed and the proposal for all-day, everyday kindergarten passed the expectation is the kindergarten would have to be implemented. It would require massive cuts to other programs to follow through, as the program costs at least $2.2 million to implement.

“The first question could stand on its own, but the second question could not stand on its own,” Anderson said.