Rockford School Board to reduce operating levy

During the school board meeting of Aug. 19, a recommendation was made to the board by District Superintendent Paul Durand, with background and specifics explained by District Business Manager Sandy Strozyk, to reduce the amount of the operating levy in its final year.

In 2009, Rockford Area Schools, District 883, successfully passed a taxpayer supported levy for 5 years at an additional per pupil funding amount of $395 annually. This was an operating levy, and the additional funding was earmarked for classrooms, supporting programs and adequate staffing. This levy is separate from the referendum passed in 2012. That, like the operating levy, came before the taxpayers for approval. The money collected for the referendum is for grounds and building improvements, repairs and remodeling.

Recent legislation by the State of Minnesota, Strozyk told the board, was good for districts like Rockford, which will now be eligible for additional funding it has not received in the past. This being the case, Strozyk explained that it would be possible for the district to reduce the amount of the operating levy in its last year (the 2014-15 school year) from $395 per pupil to $300. This represents a savings to taxpayers of $95 per pupil unit. The amount to which this will effect individual property owners is reliant upon the assessed value of their property and other factors relating to new funding formulas.

In explaining the recommendation, and what led up to it, Strozyk included this in her report to the board:

“The Minnesota Legislature enacted laws that have given school districts additional funding opportunities and/or revenue streams. The options for all districts are as follows:

1. Many school districts across the state may now be eligible to receive location equity funding. The amount of funding is determined by the location of the district, either metro or non-metro. Our district is considered a metro district for this funding source. No action is needed by the board to receive these funds. The rationale behind the additional revenue is the added costs that metro and regional center districts have to educate students and operate their districts.

2. At the discretion of each local school board, on a simple majority vote, up to $300 of operating levy revenues can now be approved. For districts that do not have an operating levy in place, boards can now authorize this new levy. For districts that already have an operating levy in place, like District #883, boards can replace the voter-approved amount (our current approved operating levy is $395) with the state authorized $300.”

The board did take action, voting unanimously, to lower the last year of the district’s operating levy from $395 to $300 per pupil unit.

The board also took action to accept the $300 operating levy that does not require voter approval, and which would not go into effect until the existing levy has ended. This is utilizing the legislation noted about in Strozyk’s paragraph 2, an equalizing measure to help fund districts that are considered property poor. Pupil unit weighting and formula changes are something the district is working through as information becomes available. Also, the existing levy the district is operating under relies on district property taxes, while the one the board approved beginning in the 2015-16 school year will have some state funding attached to it, though it is not clear at this time what that amount, or percentage, will be.

BACK TO SCHOOL

In other district news, all campuses are revving up for the influx of returning students with several new staff additions.

Daniel Pratt was introduced as the district’s new Activities Director. Pratt presented the board with a “Student Activity Pass Program” option intended to get more students in the stands supporting each other in all activities. The program would involve a $25 annual pass that would be tied to student ID cards, allowing them one-time access to any student event including sports and performances. He also proposes a challenge with students earning points calculated by the number of events they attend. The board supported this proposal.

If in place by Sept. 6, there could be a lot of points generated as the Rockford Rockets Varsity Football team takes on Eden Valley at it’s first game of the season. At half time, attendees will be invited down to see and feel the stadium’s new turf. All area resident are encouraged to attend this game and ribbon cutting event.

Also at this meeting, parents came forward to lodge disappointment over a recent change in the gymnastics program, which will see an expansion. The program will also see improved facilities with a new space being created in the middle school.

For more information on other facilities improvements, visit the district’s web site at www.rockordk12.mn.us, click on the “District Home” button on top, and go to the “Bond Pledge” link on the left. Regular progress updates are posted.

The next regular meeting of the Rockford Area Schools Board of Education will be Monday, Sept. 16, at 6:30 p.m. in the district boardroom located in the middle school.

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