South Washington County board shaping new ballot questions

With a $3.4 million renewal, the district considers nearly $7 million in levy requests.

The South Washington County School District is preparing to ask voters this fall to not only renew $3.4 million in operating money per year but also to increase that funding by another $3.5 million annually.

Proposed uses for the funds include security and technology improvements and class-size reduction.

Spending details currently are unavailable, but Superintendent Keith Jacobus pledged last week to make clear to voters long before they head to the polls in November precisely what they will be getting for their money.

The school board also is expected to decide on July 16 to put before voters an $8 million bond request to finance the purchase of 80 acres of land that one day could be used to build new elementary and middle schools.

The proposal for beefed-up operating funds would increase taxes on a $250,000 home by $60 per year, while the land-acquisition proposal would add another $20 annually, the district said.

This spring, a majority of district residents surveyed by Decision Resources Ltd. expressed a willingness to pay an additional $5 per month, or $60 per year, for operating expenditures, an amount that would boost the current $3.4 million in funding to about $6.9 million, or $516 per pupil.

In a workshop session last week, board members made repeated references to the survey — specifically the support for the $5 per month increase — in agreeing informally to back the $6.9 million funding plan.

But Board Member Jim Gelbmann suggested that the board seek even more money, perhaps with another ballot question proposing to raise an additional $100 per pupil — funding that would go directly to schools.

Jacobus said that the administration was preparing language for such a question for board review on Tuesday. But for now, the prospects of that question hitting the ballot seemed less certain last week than did the operating levy and land acquisition proposals.

“That one is truly exploratory,” Jacobus said.

During the workshop session, the board had before it six levy proposals raising between $317 per pupil, or $3 million, and $548 per pupil, or $7.5 million annually.

Jacobus, when asked by board members what the $516 per pupil, or $6.9 million, could buy, said that safety and technology needs would be addressed. Some money also could used to shrink class sizes, he said.

But the district might not be able to spend as much as it would like on curriculum, he said. Still, overall, he added, “I think it’s a realistic number to start us down the path.”

He and others noted that the district will have a $708 per pupil, or $14.9 million levy, up for renewal in 2017, and it could consider additional spending then, they said.

The district, which has been growing, has yet to identify a site that it might acquire for new schools, Jacobus said. But officials are in regular contact with city officials, and know what is available, he added.

Mike Vogel, the district’s director of operations, said, “The long-term growth in this area is going to be substantial.”

Anthony Lonetree • 651-925-5036

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