Levy defeat leaves Mahtomedi schools eyeing cuts — again

  • Article by: ANTHONY LONETREE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: November 9, 2013 - 2:04 PM

About $500,000 may have to be trimmed in 2014-15, district says.

Across the state, and Washington County too, voters were generous Tuesday when deciding whether to provide additional funding to their schools.

A budget crisis was averted in the Stillwater Area school district, and new operating revenues were approved for South Washington County as well.

But in the Mahtomedi school district, a proposal to raise an additional $330 per student was rejected soundly — and dramatically.

The last of the district’s four precincts settled what had been a close contest with a wave of “no” votes. The unofficial tally in such cities as Grant, Hugo and Dellwood found 591 votes for and 1,053 against the levy proposal — a crushing 462-vote margin in what is the county’s smallest school district.

Superintendent Mark Larson said Wednesday that the defeat leaves the district facing another round of budget cuts. It has trimmed the annual budget in nine of the past 10 years, he noted. Larson said he expects about $500,000 in cuts will be needed for 2014-15.

Voters also can expect to see the district return to them with another levy proposal next November. That’s because the levy it was hoping to replace last week will be due for renewal.

As for what it will take to reverse the district’s fortunes, Larson said, “I can say we need to do a better job of communicating.”

Mahtomedi, he said, continues to be dogged by what he says are misperceptions about the cost of educating out-of-district residents who attend schools through open enrollment.

This year, 31 percent of students live outside the district, he said.

But per-pupil revenues do follow students, and in Mahtomedi’s case, Larson said, each open-enrollment student — by his calculation — nets the district about $1,700.

Still, open enrollment remains a major concern, judging from comments on a “VOTE NO” Facebook page created this year to defeat the levy proposal.

Mahtomedi Mayor Jud Marshall said that the district does good work with tight resources.

He lamented the impact of what he described as sometimes erroneous information in anti-levy materials.

Said Marshall: “Once that gets out you can’t change it.”

In the Stillwater Area district, voters last week reversed a previous batch of “no” votes by backing a proposal to raise that district’s operating levy to $1,536 per pupil.

The victory followed district development of a new “Bridge to Excellence” strategic plan and the formation of a community group, Our Schools Our Valley, that began building support for the proposal last spring and engineered a final blitz of mailings, door knocking and phoning, said Tracy Maki, one of the group’s co-leaders.

The Stillwater Area levy will generate about $16.2 million annually, and will be used to fund security improvements and antibullying and mental health initiatives, among other uses.

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