The election day on the minds of those in many Minnesota school districts is the one next November.
Due to perhaps a perfect storm of budget deficits, stagnant state funding and quieter elections, the number of districts going to voters for more tax help next year will probably top this year's 76.
"They really have no choice," said Greg Abbott of the Minnesota School Boards Association. "Schools have been living off nothing for six of the last eight years. They're going to have to get money from somewhere."
Abbott predicted that more schools will appeal to voters in 2011 than this year's 76 districts and could even top the 101 districts that went to voters in 2007. Schools have until August to decide.
A possible advantage to going to voters next year, Abbott said, is that it's often easier to pass levy increases or bond referendums outside of general elections, when school votes can be drowned out by big-ticket races.
A smattering of metro school districts are doing just that, expecting to go to voters in fall 2011 for tax increases either because their votes failed last week or they didn't go to voters at all this year.
In New Prague, school board chairman Jerry Walerius said talks are starting about a fall 2011 operating levy increase.
"The sooner the better," he said.
Brooklyn Center and West St. Paul-Mendota Heights-Eagan school districts expect to go back to voters after they turned down referendum requests last week.
In Anoka-Hennepin, the state's largest district is already putting together a task force of community members to draft plans for a 2011 vote that would renew or increase a levy that supports about 15 percent of the district's operating budget.
Board chairman Tom Heidemann called it a critical funding source for the district.
"If that does not pass, the Anoka-Hennepin School District will look a lot different," he said. "It's required to maintain the basic level of education in Anoka-Hennepin."
He and other school board leaders said the need now stems from a swing in school districts' dependence from state funding to local taxpayers' support of levies.
"The shift from state funding to more local funds" is a "new reality," added Tony Taschner, spokesman for Rosemount-Apple Valley-Eagan Schools. "The school board has had to consider it every year."
Taxpayers in the south metro district turned down a vote last week to levy the maximum amount allowed by state law. Now officials are bracing for budget cuts and may consider going back to voters in 2011.
Lagging state funding means many Minnesota schools that are draining reserves to deal with deficits will need a boost from local aid.
That could be the case in Delano, where the school district faces an estimated $240,000 deficit this year and an expected continued operating shortfall next year.
School officials are closely eying what the Legislature does next with education funding, but say it's highly likely they'll go to voters in 2011 for a levy increase.
"We're really at the whim of the state government," Delano school board chairman Peter Brasket said, adding that the increased dependence on local taxpayers probably won't change. "If we're like any other school district, it will continue to rise."
Kelly Smith • 612-673-4141