Osseo School District levies would have reduced tax impact

Board approved ballot questions for this November 

Levy requests on the ballot this fall would have less impact on taxpayers in the Osseo School District than previously expected.

That’s what Supt. Kate Maguire told the school board and the public in a July 30 presentation immediately before the board approved the final ballot questions.

Much of the reduced impact would be due to $5 million in property tax relief from the state, as well as measures the district has taken to minimize tax impact, Maguire said.

In November voters will consider a technology levy – called a capital projects levy on the ballot – and an operating levy. Either can be approved or denied without affecting the other.

If neither is approved, the school district’s portion of property taxes would decrease, thanks to the property tax relief. Without the operating levy, however, the district would expect to make approximately $8 million in cuts by 2016.

 

LEVIES BEING CONSIDERED

If approved, the technology levy would raise $5 million a year for 10 years through property taxes. That’s the same as what the district sought last fall when voters rejected the measure by a margin of 2,287 votes, or about 3.4 percent.

The technology levy would raise taxes on a “typical” home (valued at $192,000) by less than $3 a month beginning in 2014, according to Maguire.

Last year the district expected the technology levy would have raised taxes on a $200,000 home by about $7 a month.

If approved, the operating levy would raise about $9 million annually, the same amount as last year. It would be structured differently, however.

In 2012 the board requested approval for a five-year operating levy that would provide about $9 million per year. It was defeated by 116 votes, or about 0.2 percent.

This year the board will ask voters to revoke and replace the current levy with one $9 million larger.

The existing levy collects about $33 million a year and is set to expire in 2017. If voters agreed to revoke and replace it, the district would eliminate the current levy and replace it with one that would collect a total of about $42 million per year. This larger levy wouldn’t expire for 10 years.

“The strategy of revoking the existing levy and replacing it with one that would extend another 10 years will save future election costs and provide more financial predictability,” Maguire said.

The operating levy would raise taxes on a “typical” home (valued at $192,000) by about $7 a month, beginning in 2014, according to Maguire.

Last year the district expected the operating levy would raise taxes on a $200,000 home by about $14 a month.

A tax impact calculator will be available online this fall so voters can calculate the tax impact on their homes.

 

WHAT IF THE LEVIES ARE REJECTED?

In her July 30 presentation, Maguire said the Osseo School District is making progress in student achievement and needs more funding to continue the work leading to that progress.

Maguire gave several examples of progress in the district, such as the fact that on-time graduation rates for every racial-ethnic group district-wide are higher than the state average.

She said if the operating levy fails, it will “jeopardize the pace at which we’ve been increasing student achievement.”

“Providing the same amount of service costs more every year, but our income isn’t keeping up with those increasing costs,” she said, pointing out that 90 percent of the district’s budget pays for services at school sites, while only 3 percent goes to district-level administration costs.

Maguire said during the past six years the district has reduced expenses by $21 million, including the $3.1 million in cuts implemented for this school year. She said the district has also saved $6 million through energy conservation, health insurance cost containment and holding the line on purchased services.

In cutting $3.1 million this year, Maguire said, the district did its best to keep the effects away from the classroom as much as possible.

“If further cuts are needed, however, there is no doubt that they will have a dramatic impact on the classroom,” she said.

The district has come up with a list of $8 million in cuts it would likely implement for the 2014-15 and 2015-16 school years if the operating levy fails.

The cuts would likely include more than 42 licensed teachers, as well as reduce extracurricular activities and increase the radius around schools where students would be required to walk.

“District-wide, elementary and secondary classes will increase by up to three students,” Maguire said. “However, because students don’t distribute themselves evenly, individual classrooms, even at the elementary level, could have as many as 40 students.”

Maguire said the levy would help keep teachers in the classroom.

“If the levy passes, we also anticipate that no budget reductions will be necessary for at least two years,” she said.

As for the technology levy, Maguire said it would go toward the purchase, installation and maintenance of technology for classroom instruction.

“Our students live in a digital world,” she said. “Our schools are falling behind colleges, workplaces and other school districts using technology for learning. Students and teachers need access to technology now. We can’t adequately prepare our students for the future, when they don’t have the tools that others are using on a daily basis today.”

Maguire also said the levy would support equitable access to technology across the district. Without the levy, she said, concerns about inequity would persist.

 

BOARD SUPPORT

The school board voted 5-1 July 30 to support the ballot language for the operating and technology levies.

Board Chair Dean Henke cast the dissenting vote. Although he said he fully supports the technology levy, he isn’t in favor of the operating levy.

“My reservation with the operating referendum is the length of time,” he said. “I would prefer a time shorter than the 10-year period. Since all of the language is folded together in one motion, I will not be supporting this motion tonight.”

That differed from statements Henke made in April. Although he supported last year’s request for a five-year operating levy, he said at an April 9 work session that he wouldn’t support an operating levy this year, regardless of the term.

He said April 9 that he didn’t feel the district was any closer to having a sustainable budget than it was last year and pointed out that even if voters approved the operating levy, the district might still face cuts a year or two later. Until that changed, he said, he couldn’t support a levy.

With the new funding from the legislature and the updated budget forecasts, the outlook doesn’t appear as bleak as it did. In an interview after the July 30 board meeting, Henke said he would have considered supporting a levy with a shorter term.

“Generally the longer time frames I won’t support, because usually … we continue to spend more than we take in … and then we’re right back to cutting,” he said. “A shorter time period kind of keeps us closer to where we’re at with our budgets.”

More information on the levies, as well as a tax impact calculator, will be available in the coming weeks at district279.org.

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