Stillwater schools will ask public for more money

  • Article by: DAAREL BURNETTE II , Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 27, 2011 - 10:00 PM

Three questions on November ballot would help provide funds amid flat funding from state and federal governments, officials say.

The Stillwater Area Schools will be going to the public in November to ask for more money, its school board has decided.

At their August meeting, school board members voted to place three questions on the ballot that would provide administrators with a new levy, a capital project levy for technology and a bond that would pay for the renovation of Stillwater Area High and Oak-Land Junior High schools.

Administrators say that because of flat funding from the state and federal government and increasing inflation, the district has had to cut services continually. The district receives 70 percent of its revenue from Minnesota, 5 percent from the federal government and 25 percent from local property taxes.

Even with the proposed levy in place, the district would need to reduce expenses by $5 million in 2012, administrators said.

The board will ask voters to replace the existing levy that provides $965 per student a year with a levy that would provide $1,465 per student a year for the next seven years. Administrators say the extra money would allow for the district to reduce layoffs and cuts and enhance "learning opportunities for our students to better prepare them for a global society."

"As the new guy coming in, to ask the community to support a levy and bond request is the last thing I want to do," said Superintendent Corey Lunn, who started in July. "I didn't have to be here long, however, to see that we do need additional resources to support Vision 2014 and continue to meet the needs of all of our students. That said, I also believe we need to make significant changes as an organization to reduce our costs and operate in a more efficient manner.

"This levy request is about meeting in the middle. We can work together to make up our $10 million budget shortfall by reducing the district's budget by half this amount and requesting a referendum increase from our community for the other half."

Interim Superintendent Tom Nelson, Lunn's predecessor, told the board in a report in June that the district will face a budget deficit of between $8 million and $10 million by the end of next school year -- more than 10 percent of the district's overall operating budget -- if the levy is not increased.

The new operating levy would cost a homeowner $66.54 a year per $100,000 of home valuation.

A new technology levy would provide students with items such as iPods or online textbooks. The levy also would allow for the district to "ensure all students have access to the same technology regardless of where they go to school," administrators said.

The technology levy would cost a homeowner $12.22 a year per $100,000 of home valuation and would provide the district $115 per student, or $982,300 a year, for seven years.

The third question would ask residents to approve an $18.1 million bond that would be used to place five new science labs and two science, technology, engineering and math fabrication labs at Stillwater High School, as well as expand the four existing science labs and renovate an existing classroom into a science, technology, engineering and math fabrication lab at Oak-Land Junior High School.

The bond would cost a homeowner $10.76 a year per $100,000 of home valuation. It would and be paid back by the district over the next 15 years.

If residents vote yes on all three questions, the owner of a $100,000 home would pay $89.52 a year.

Daarel Burnette II • 651-925-5032 Twitter: @DaarelStrib

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