The $4.45 million plan to replace grass athletic fields with artificial turf at Bloomington's Jefferson and Kennedy High Schools has been put on hold indefinitely following the school board's decision to reduce the district's tax levy.

The postponement will save approximately $8 for the average Bloomington home, valued at $242,800, on the 2009 property tax bills.

Residents were aware of a likely increase in this year's school portion of the tax levy with the passage of a $5.9 million operating levy in November 2007. However, the 15.8 percent increase in the school portion of the tax levy has now been reduced to 14.9 percent, while the overall tax levy -- which includes both city and county taxes -- will increase 7.2 percent on the average Bloomington residence.

This is the second reduction in the school district's levy before final certification later this month. In November, the district announced it was reducing the levy by nearly $1 million by not levying for certain items and programs that were included in the original property tax budget. Final residential and business tax statements will be mailed after the first of the year, and will reflect the revised school district levy changes.

The district had proposed levying $334,443 per year for 15 years to install artificial turf on the fields inside the schools' existing running tracks that are currently used as practice facilities for lacrosse, soccer and football. The work was expected to begin in May 2009.

School board members said the project would be put back on track when economic conditions improve. State funding for schools is likely to be severely impacted given the recent announcement that Minnesota's budget deficit is $5.2 billion.

"Like school districts across the state, we are bracing for a zero increase, and possible reductions, in state aid for the next two years," said Superintendent Les Fujitake. "While the need for this project still exists, the environment has changed and we believe this move is fiscally prudent at this time."

Aimee Blanchette • 612-673-1715