Schools, seniors in same boat

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, October 30, 2001

Seniors and public schools have a lot in common.

Tuesday, October 30, 2001

Seniors and public schools have a lot in common.

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Inadequate funding from the state coupled with rising health care and utility costs are two of the reasons often cited by the Albert Lea school district for the proposed excess levy referendum. But many seniors face the same financial challenges and feel reluctant to vote in favor of the measure.

&uot;Social Security for me and my mother is only going up about 2.7 percent,&uot; said one 70-year-old Clarks Grove woman who was shopping Monday with her 90-year-old mother. &uot;Just like the schools, we’re not getting big enough raises from the government to pay for the costs that are going up terribly high like prescriptions and heat.&uot;

&uot;I’m afraid we’re all going to have to tighten our belts. We’re in a time of conflict, and it’s hard to see what’s ahead for the country,&uot; she said. &uot;I’m voting against this – the extra funding.&uot;

August Schumn, 85, said he also plans to vote &uot;no&uot; Tuesday when he gets to the polls. Though three of his children graduated from the district, he wants to see the full tax breaks passed in the last legislative session. He still owns his own home in Albert Lea.

&uot;We got a big dip in our taxes, and now what’s happening – all the local taxes are going up,&uot; he said.

The 2001 legislature restructured the state’s property-tax system, delivering property tax cuts to Minnesotans. Depending on the property, the school’s levy could add enough taxes to offset the tax cuts; others will see decreases either way, but the cut would be smaller if the referendum passes.

Schumn used to own Northwest Rubber Factory on Albert Lea’s south side. He figures he has already paid more than his fair share of school taxes.

&uot;I’m not against taxes because we need them for a lot of things. But, we just can’t give money away either,&uot; he said.

The Albert Lea school district has proposed a $358 per pupil funding increase to avoid deep budget cuts in 2002. The levy would add $1.7 million to the district’s operating budget next year and each of the following nine years depending on enrollment.

Mary Anne Westrum, 80, is a resident of Senior Tower in Albert Lea. She is one of the undecided senior citizens who are hoping to make up their minds on the referendum issue in the coming week.

&uot;From what I hear, it’s something we need. I would still like to hear some more information,&uot; she said. &uot;I don’t have real strong opinion.&uot;

Westrum said the referendum is one of many issues discussed around the table during SEMCAC meals. She said she would welcome an informational presentation from the district.

&uot;I know it’s only a week away, but I don’t know enough about it,&uot; Westrum said.

Cato Trolen is in the same category as Westrum. The Clarks Grove farmer who describes himself as &uot;well into his eighties but still kicking&uot; said he’s certain he’ll be voting Nov. 6, but he’s not sure what his vote will be.

&uot;My boys have been out of school for a long time. I’m not close to it anymore,&uot; he said. &uot;I really don’t know what the needs of the schools are anymore.&uot;

Trolen’s 450-acre farm will be exempt from school taxes thanks to new tax reforms, but his homestead is still taxable. On top of that, Trolen spends about six months each year in Arizona, and admits that he fits the classic Minnesota snowbird definition.

&uot;I have a home here and a home in Arizona. I’m already paying taxes for schools in two states,&uot; he said.

&uot;On the other hand, my grandson seemed to get good schooling in Albert Lea a few years ago, so who knows what I’ll decide.&uot;

But some seniors still feel very close to the school district and are avid supporters of education. Harold and Linda Dahl had two daughters graduate from the district. Now both daughters are administrators in education.

&uot;I think our girls were well prepared by their experiences in the Albert Lea schools. We have a lot of wonderful teachers here,&uot; said Harold Dahl.

The Dahls said they will vote &uot;yes&uot; on Nov. 6, even though passing the referendum means they will see less of a tax break.

&uot;We’ve always been very education oriented,&uot; he said.