Two metro school districts are preparing to send levy referendums to the ballot this fall, asking local voters to help stave off millions of dollars in budget cuts in upcoming school years.
In the Rosemount-Apple Valley-Eagan district, school board members have expressed support for putting a $19 million levy increase on the November ballot and are expected to approve the move on July 22.
Elk River board members, meanwhile, recently voted to send two questions to voters: One would increase the local operating levy by $11 million annually, and a second would allow for $113 million in bonding to pay for a new middle school as well as building upgrades and maintenance to accommodate the district’s growing enrollment.
Both districts ended the last school year facing major budget shortfalls and have already made cuts for the upcoming year.
Tony Taschner, spokesman for the Rosemount-Apple Valley-Eagan district, said a “yes” vote on the referendum will come too late to avoid the reductions already in place for this year, including the loss of more than 30 teaching positions.
But it could determine whether more cuts are needed in the next two years, when officials expect an $18 million shortfall.
In both districts — and in others facing difficult budget situations — school leaders have placed the blame on swelling costs, in areas ranging from special education to mental health, and stagnant support from the state. Lawmakers voted this year to boost the state’s per-pupil funding formula by 2% in each of the next two years and added more money for special education.
Taschner said that wasn’t enough for his district, where the gap between the cost of special education and the amount covered by the state and federal government adds up to $29 million each year.
“If that wasn’t the case, and if we had been receiving consistent increases to the general education formula, inflationary increases for the last 15 years, we wouldn’t be in this position,” he said.
If Rosemount-Apple Valley-Eagan voters approve the levy referendum, it would increase local funding by $627 per student.
The district estimates that the tax impact on someone who owns a $286,500 home — the average home value in the district — would be about $25 per month or $300 per year.
The last time voters approved an operating referendum was 2013, after a period in which the district made tens of millions of dollars in cuts. Taschner said board members want to avoid future cuts and begin to restore some of those losses.
In the Elk River district, leaders say resources are being stretched thin by rapid growth in the district and state funding that has lagged behind inflation. Officials project that enrollment will grow by more than 2,000 students in the next five to eight years.
The district’s proposed operating levy referendum would increase local funding by $750 per student, money that would be used to lower class sizes, update instructional materials and provide help for struggling students.
The bond referendum — which can only pass if the operating referendum is also successful — would help pay for new and existing facilities.
The district estimates that taxpayers who own a $250,000 home would pay an additional $32 per month if both ballot questions are approved.
School boards in other districts have until August to determine if they’ll send their own funding requests to voters this fall.
Discussions are underway in Burnsville, where board members will take up the issue — but not yet make a final decision — at a July 15 work session.
In the North Branch district, where schools have faced a string of budget cuts over the last decade, board members recently decided not to ask voters for help.
That move came after the school board heard the results of a community survey commissioned by the district, in which fewer than a third of would-be voters surveyed said they’d support a tax increase for schools.