Osseo School District voters will consider two levy questions

One is a 5-year operating levy, the other a 10-year technology levy

Voters in the Osseo School District will cast ballots to approve or deny two proposed levies Nov. 6.

The district will ask voters to approve a 5-year operating levy and a 10-year technology levy (capital projects levy).

Neither levy depends on the passage of the other.

The district has launched an election-related section of its website to help voters learn about each proposed levy. It includes a levy calculator to help homeowners estimate the tax impact on their properties. It also includes copies of the wording on the ballot with explanations of what the questions mean. The information is available at district279.org.

Residents may submit levy questions through the website, by emailing [email protected] or by calling 763-391-8639.


Operating levy

If approved, the operating levy would provide $9 million per year for five years. The district says it needs the money to help maintain the current level of services.

“We are making excellent progress with our students, and we want to continue that progress,” Assistant Supt. Kim Riesgraf said. “… People ask, ‘Well, why do you need that money?’ And it’s really because it costs more than it did in 2008 to deliver the same services.”

A median-valued home in the district is worth $190,000. According to the district, taxes on a median-valued home go up about $13 a month if the operating levy is approved.

The last time voters approved an operating levy in the district was 2007. During the past five years, the district has cut about $18 million from the budget.

If the operating levy fails, the district estimates it would need to reduce the budget by an additional $14 million in the next two years in order to stay out of debt and keep enough cash on hand to cover two and a half weeks of operations. It says that would mean the loss of about 200 employees, larger classes sizes and reduced programs and services.

Even if the levy passes, the district expects it will need to make some cuts.

Riesgraf says the district is doing its best to be fiscally responsible and has implemented cost-saving measures in areas such as energy efficiency, transportation and purchased services. Over the last five years, the district says it has saved about $3 million through such cost-saving measures.

Riesgraf said that shows the district doesn’t ask voters for more “until we really need to.”

The district has also aggressively pursued grants, she said.


Technology levy

The technology levy, which will be called a “capital project levy” on the ballot, would generate $5 million per year for 10 years.

If voters approve the technology levy, a median-value home would see a tax increase of about $6 a month.

Several metro-area school districts have technology levies but the Osseo district does not. The Hopkins district has the highest per-pupil tech levy. It brings in $746 per student. The Anoka-Hennepin District gets $65 per pupil. If the levy passes, the Osseo district would get $188 per pupil. In terms of per-pupil revenue, that would land it in the lower half of metro-area districts that have technology levies.

Tim Wilson, the district’s chief technology officer, said the district needs the levy for two reasons.

“We need to expand our students’ opportunities to use technology everyday, and we need to take care of the equipment we have now,” he said.

Wilson believes technology is critical in education because students live in a technological world.

“It’s only going to get more technological as our students graduate and go off into the world,” he said.

Preparing students technologically is essential, Wilson said, if the district is to accomplish its mission of preparing students to achieve dreams, contribute to community and engage in a lifetime of learning.

Wilson said levy revenue would be spent in three broad categories: learning tools, equipment or software for training and infrastructure.

Learning tools include things like classroom amplification systems, projectors and laptops.

For example, the district wants to have more laptop carts in schools so they can be used where they’re needed. And existing computers need to be replaced periodically.

“We get six or seven years out of our computers, which is way more than most businesses would ever do,” Wilson said.

In addition, Wilson said the district is still working on meeting its classroom technology standards in areas such as classroom amplification — an area research shows improves student learning.

Equipment or software for training includes projects such as setting up online training modules and “webinars” so teachers can receive training on their own schedules and from their own school building or home.

Infrastructure includes system-level improvements, such as purchasing a backup generator for the Educational Services Center or replacing equipment in the district’s data center.

Wilson said the district also has about 66 miles of fiber optic cables, and about one third are above ground. The district wants to bury those cables, because there are network disruptions multiple times a year due to storms, squirrels or other interferences.

When asked what measurable impact the technology levy would have on student achievement, Wilson said there isn’t an obvious answer.

“You will find plenty of studies … that show technology can improve achievement,” he said. But the district isn’t planning a study to assess whether specific measures directly affect achievement.

“That would be a major research project,” he said. “We’re not a research institution.”

He said the district does take existing research into account when considering new technology initiatives.

“We believe these projects will help students achieve more,” he said. “If we didn’t, we wouldn’t propose them.”