Osseo Area Schools seek operating, technology funds on the Nov. 5 ballot

Tax increase will not be as high as a recent mailer indicates 

BY Paul Groessel

Sun POST Newspapers

 

The pair of questions from Osseo Area Schools on the Nov. 5 election ballot may look familiar.

Although the questions are slightly different this year, school district leaders are hoping that the less-cluttered 2013 ballot will bring more attention to the operating levy and technology levy. The levies were narrowly defeated in last year’s general election.

Voter approval of the operating levy would provide $9 million more than the existing levy, which collects about $33 million a year and is set to expire in 2017. Passage would prevent $8.1 million in budget cuts over the next two years, according to the school district.

Approval of the technology referendum would provide $5 million in additional funding for the next 10 years. These funds would be dedicated to providing students technological equipment and curriculum. The Osseo district lags behind neighboring districts in providing both, according to school officials.

Results for one levy do not affect the other levy.

The school district recently sent a legally-required mailer that showed higher taxes than what homeowners will actually have to pay if the levies are approved. The figures did not take into account actions taken by the state legislature and the school district that will reduce other school levies. Because of these offsets, the total school district tax impact would be about half of what the mailer indicated, according to Barb Olson, the district’s school community relations director.

Despite what was indicated in the recent Notice of Special Election that the school district mailed to homes, the operating levy and technology levy, if approved, would cost the typical home – valued at $192,000, according to Hennepin County – $7 per month and $3 per month respectively.

To clarify the message, the district will be updating the newspaper legal notice, its website, e-newsletter, social media posts and other platforms.

“We’re going to take every opportunity we have to clarify it,” Olson said.

Opting to approve the levy questions came with 5-1 approval from the school board on July 30. School Board Chair Dean Henke voted against it, saying he was for the technology levy but against the operating levy because of its 10-year span. He would have considered supporting an operating levy with a shorter time frame, he said on Monday.

In last year’s election, the levies – which would have provided funding for five years, not 10 – were narrowly defeated. The operating levy was defeated by 116 votes, or about 0.2 percent, and the technology levy was defeated by a margin of 2,287 votes, or about 3.4 percent.

“I’m cautiously optimistic,” Osseo Area Schools Supt. Kate Maguire said three weeks prior to Election Day. “I’m in contact with both students and community members. My emphasis when I’m talking to folks is on making sure that they have the information they need to make an informed decision.”

Maguire said that she often explains to residents and community members that school district funding has become inequitable under the state’s insufficient funding structure, which she said has left 90 percent of districts in the state relying on operating levies to meet basic educational needs.

Already facing budget challenges, and after listening to feedback from those opposed to last year’s levy, the district avoided classroom cuts when making $3 million in budget reductions for the 2014-2015 school year, Maguire said, but that cannot continue if voters do not approve the operating referendum.

“(Avoiding classroom cuts) simply will not be possible going into the future,” Maguire said. “… So, reducing $8.1 million over the next two years, it will be impossible to not detract from that investment.”

The $8.1 million in cuts would lead to larger class sizes, fewer activities outside of the classroom, longer walking distances for junior high and senior high school students and other setbacks, according to the school district.

However, if the operating levy is approved, the additional $9 million per year for 10 years would not require budget reductions for at least two years, according to the school district.

Residents can calculate estimated tax payments by visiting the school district’s online tax calculator, bit.ly/1fJ3ikv (link shortened).

 

Contact Paul Groessel at paul.groessel@ecm-inc.com

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