School will seek $1.7 million for next year

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, September 5, 2001

Voters will consider an excess levy referendum Nov.

Wednesday, September 05, 2001

Voters will consider an excess levy referendum Nov. 6 that would generate millions of dollars for Albert Lea Area Schools over the next 10 years and rescue the district from big budget cuts next year.

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The referendum, approved unanimously by the school board Monday, would add $1.7 million to the district’s budget in 2002.

&uot;There has been a lot of thought and time that has gone into this decision,&uot; said board member Ken Petersen. &uot;We looked at a lot of numbers and projections in coming to this figure.&uot;

If approved by voters, the levy would add approximately $358 per student to the district’s general operating revenue – enough funding to maintain the district’s programming and staffing levels, said Finance Director Mark Stotts.

&uot;I think this would take us out at least five years,&uot; said Stotts. &uot;We wouldn’t have to look at any significant cuts for awhile.&uot;

Superintendent David Prescott said the district needs the additional funds because operating costs, especially utilities, are rising faster than revenues, and the student population will probably continue to decline. The district’s operating revenue is $758 per pupil below the state average, he said.

Without the excess levy referendum, board member Tom Eaton said the district would be faced with budget reductions next year. It’s a situation that demands immediate action, he said.

&uot;If we don’t pass this in the November election, we won’t see the revenue stream until after we need it to maintain our programs.&uot; Eaton said. &uot;Myself, as a board member, I think this is the path we need to go down at this point.&uot;

&uot;People need to choose what kind of schools and programs they want to have,&uot; Petersen added.

Prescott said the added revenue would help the district preserve:

– class size ratios

– four elementary schools

– elementary specialists in art, music, physical education and media instruction

– secondary course electives

– current staffing levels

– athletic and extra-curricular programs

– student services

While the excess levy will keep the district out of budget-cutting mode, Prescott said most taxpayers will not see an increase in their property taxes because the state is taking over the general education levy, including current operating referendums.

School board members and administrators will present details about the tax impact at a series of public meetings. The first is tentatively scheduled for Sept. 24 at 7 p.m. in the Albert Lea High School auditorium.

Board chair Carol Haun said many other school districts in the state are facing budget shortfalls and asking voters for excess levies.

&uot;Most districts in the state are looking at this issue in regard to their budgets,&uot; she said. &uot;We are not unique in that respect.&uot;