Elk River likely to hold school levy vote in November

  • Article by: NORMAN DRAPERWEST TODAY , Star Tribune
  • Updated: June 23, 2010 - 8:44 PM

Voters in the Elk River school district apparently will head back to the polls in November to weigh in on a multimillion-dollar-a-year funding request.

The school board decided to hold the referendum at a school board work session on Monday. It is slated to come up for formal action this coming Monday.

The board plans to pose two ballot questions. One would renew the current levy, which provides the district about $3 million a year. That levy is slated to expire in 2011. The second question requests a new levy, which would provide an additional $3 million annually. Both levies would be for 10 years.

Voters might be willing to give the district what it wants, said Elk River Superintendent Mark Bezek, referring to a study performed by district consultant Bill Morris, who often does opinion polling for school districts.

"He said it's extremely favorable for renewal, and that there's a lot of support for the second question," Bezek said.

The district has had a mixed record in getting voters to approve levy and bond requests.

Voters turned down a $133 million bonding request three years ago to build a new high school and new K-8 school, among other things. They also rejected one $5.1-million-a-year levy request since Bezek started four years ago.

A year and a half ago, voters approved renewal of an expiring levy that provides $1.6 million a year.

In the past 15 years, the fast-growing Elk River district has held eight bond referendums to raise money for school construction and renovation. Three of those passed. In the same time span, the district posed 11 levy questions to voters, and won approval on six.

Should voters choose not to renew the expiring budget, Bezek said, "the budget's going to have to reflect that for the 2011-12 school year."

That would mean budget cuts. Elk River had to make $6.1 million in adjustments to last year's budget, but is actually in decent shape going into the 2010-11 school year, Bezek said.

That's due, in part, to a continued allocation of federal economic stimulus funds. It's also due to a teacher contract settlement that turned out to be more favorable to the district than initially anticipated. As a result, the district has been able to build its budget reserve up to 5 percent of the budget.

"Financially, we're probably in the best situation we've been in in years," he said.

Bezek said success for a Nov. 2 referendum will depend on how well the district markets the importance of additional funding and if it can marshal plenty of volunteers.

"It all runs down to all the help you can get," he said.

Norman Draper • 612-673-4547

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