Hoping to reverse a trend that has left it with no new local levy money for a decade, the Lakeville school board has approved putting a $5.6 million operating levy on the ballot in November.
The proposal would raise property taxes on an average-priced Lakeville home by $169 annually for 10 years and amount to $540 per pupil. The money would be available for the 2014-15 school year.
The board spent months deciding just how much money to seek, with many study sessions and a lot of data analysis, said Superintendent Lisa Snyder. Two community surveys also guided its decision.
"We don't want to give the impression that we're asking for more than the community has said they'll support," said Snyder. "Combined with a lot of other internal strategies, we really feel that this will put us on a better path."
Board Chairwoman Roz Peterson said the goal was to keep the issue straightforward for voters. "It's one question. We wanted to keep it simple and understandable," she said.
If passed, the new funds would maintain current programs, address the district's high class sizes and improve STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) programming at all grade levels.
"The main theme, loud and clear, No. 1, has been class size," said Snyder.
The district has cut $30 million over the past decade, Snyder said, so while the additional money will help, it cannot bring back everything that was cut, such as art and music.
"We actually did explore whether we could leverage some of this to bring back an arts specialist, even at a lower amount of time than we had before," Snyder said. "We just can't do it. We can't do it all."
The money would be directed at reducing class sizes in grades 3-5, which have climbed to 32 to 35, Snyder said.
Class sizes in core subjects at the high school also would be lowered, she said, especially in science classes with labs. Currently, some classes have between 40 and 49 students, said Peterson.
Peterson recalled that last year her daughter took a pre-calculus class at Lakeville South with more than 40 students. The class was difficult and her daughter struggled, in part because the teacher couldn't give much individual help.
"There were big, huge, long lines of students who didn't understand at the teacher's desk," Peterson said. "It was overwhelming for the teacher."
Though Snyder's calendar this spring and summer has been filled with community meetings and "State of the Schools" addresses, she believes there's still more work to do before November.
She wants to visit Lakeville's senior center to inform residents there about the levy and plans on scheduling an information session in Credit River Township, which sends students to Lakeville schools.
Snyder said the board is "very, very hopeful" the levy will pass.
Though she wasn't here for previous levies, she said "the culture feels different now than from what I'm hearing from during past levy elections." There now seems to be more support and a better understanding of the district's situation, she said.
Also, in contrast to the 2007 vote, there will be more polling places, Snyder said. There will be 20 sites this time, whereas there were only four in 2007.
With no election happening simultaneously and no other questions on the ballot, staffing the polling places will be an "expensive endeavor," Snyder said.
"But the plus side is, people are really focused on you," she said. "So there's certainly some advantages of being the only question on the ballot in getting people's attention."
Andy Charrier, a Lakeville resident who coaches speech at the high school, started a blog this year about the district's financial struggles called "Minnesota, not Mississippi."
In one entry, he compared the amount the state of Mississippi spends per pupil on education to what Lakeville spends, finding that Mississippi spends more. He chose Mississippi because it is consistently among the five lowest-performing states educationally, he wrote.
Charrier, whose wife is a Lakeville high school teacher, said he supports the levy and the superintendent's efforts to communicate how cuts have affected the district.
"I'm glad to see them taking a risk," he said. "It's not going to solve every single problem in Lakeville, and no one should think that. But it's going to stave off some really bad stuff if it doesn't pass."