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4 south metro districts putting levies on ballot

  • Article by: Erin Adler
  • Star Tribune
  • October 26, 2013 - 4:45 PM

In what has turned out to be an average year for school levy requests, three south metro districts will be asking for levy increases on Nov. 5.

Two of them, Rosemount-Apple Valley-Eagan and Lakeville, will put operating levies on the ballot, while one, Inver Grove Heights, is proposing a bond issue.

A fourth district, Hastings, is seeking an operating levy renewal.

Rosemount-Apple Valley-Eagan will ask voters to increase their current operating levy by $10 million, replacing their $20 million levy with a $30 million measure, generating an extra $375 per pupil for 10 years.

In Lakeville, voters will decide whether to approve a new 10-year levy request for $5.6 million, amounting to an additional $540 per pupil.

In Inver Grove Heights, the district is seeking approval of a $24.75 million bond issue to make facilities improvements, payable over 19 years.

Hastings is the only south metro district asking voters to renew an operating levy. The $4.2 million levy, passed in 2005, would extend 10 more years and wouldn’t increase voters’ taxes.

The four districts making tax requests are among 76 in Minnesota asking voters for taxing authority this year, in the form of renewals or increased levy dollars. Of those requests, 57 are operating levies and 26 are either building bond or capital lease issues; seven districts are asking for both, according to Minnesota School Boards Association data.

“It’s going to be a pretty average year,” said Greg Abbott, communications director for the association. In an odd year, “average” means between 55 and 75 districts seeking levy approval, he added.

Rosemount- Apple Valley-Eagan

This summer, District 196 estimated the levy would cost owners of an average $225,000 home an extra $184 per year, said Jeff Solomon, the district’s finance director. But in September, additional equalization aid from the state reduced the amount taxpayers will pay.

If the levy passes, the average homeowner will be paying $56 more next year compared to this year, Solomon said. If it doesn’t pass, his taxes will decrease about $128 on that home.

The money is needed “just to allow us to sustain programming we have in place and continue the initiatives we’ve been striving for,” Solomon said.

If it doesn’t pass, the district will have to cut $6 million in 2014-15 and $20 million in 2015-16, he said. Teachers and support staff will be cut, which will mean class size increases. Certain programs will be eliminated or reduced, such as fifth-grade band and ninth-grade B sports, according to the district’s levy sheet.

The district has already been downsizing. From 2009 to 2012, $34 million was cut from the budget. The reductions resulted in 200 teachers and staff being cut, along with increased activity and transportation fees. During the past decade, the district’s enrollment has declined by about 1,200 students, Solomon said.

In 2010, voters rejected a $16 million levy question.

Lakeville

The Lakeville district has eliminated $30 million in spending over the last seven years, resulting in larger class sizes, increased fees for activities and busing, and art and music cuts. The enrollment in the district also has decreased by about 420 students from 2007 to 2012.

Now the district is asking voters to approve a levy to allow it to “get on a better path,” said Superintendent Lisa Snyder. The tax increase would amount to $167 annually on an average $230,000 home.

If passed, $4 million of the $5.6 million in new funding would go toward balancing the budget in 2014-15. The other $1.6 million would go toward hiring teachers to reduce class sizes and adding STEM programming, said Snyder.

The district’s levy presentation shows that Lakeville receives the lowest amount in general fund revenue out of the metro area’s 20 largest districts. This levy would “get us out of last place,” said Jason Molesky, the district’s director of program evaluation.

And if it doesn’t pass? “Our board has chosen not to create scenarios [of what would be cut] which some districts have chosen to do,” said Snyder. However, “we may have to look at reorganizing our whole district” if it doesn’t pass, she said.

In both 2007 and 2010, voters renewed existing levies but denied requests for new funding. In 2007, the levy failed by 12 votes, which many attributed to having just four polling places, Snyder said. This year there will be 20 polling places.

Inver Grove Heights

In June, the Inver Grove Heights school board approved putting a $31 million bond issue question on the ballot, saying it was needed to maintain and improve the district’s aging facilities. That bond issue would have cost owners of an average $184,000 home $91 a year.

But then they saw the results of a community survey indicating most residents would be likely to support a bond issue costing them an additional $80 or less annually, said Jason Mutzenberger, the district’s director of business services.

“So then the board really took that to heart,” he said, reducing their request in August to $24.75 million over 19 years at a cost of $77 more per year to the average homeowner.

There are fewer athletic improvements included now — a new gymnastics facility at Simley High School will have to wait — and the proposed performing arts center will have 700 seats instead of 1,200. Cuts in those two areas reduced the total referendum by $5.5 million, he said.

In the new proposal, more than a quarter of the money would go toward deferred maintenance projects, like roofs and windows. Salem Hills Elementary in particular needs maintenance, including new windows, he said.

Another quarter of the improvements are to modernize learning spaces, especially at Simley High School. And the district has proposed security updates to all its buildings.

The district last passed a bond issue in 2005 to rebuild Inver Grove Heights Middle School and make improvements to Hilltop Elementary. Technology levies were defeated in 2011 and 2012.

Erin Adler • 952-746-3283

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