Referendum will provide two options

Published 12:00 am Friday, August 23, 2002

Turned back in their efforts to get extra school funding passed last year, the Albert Lea School Board is going back to voters with a different approach &045; letting residents pick the amount of extra money the school can raise.

The board Thursday unanimously passed a resolution to put a two-question referendum on this November’s general election ballot. The decision comes four days after the school board was given the results of a survey done to see what kind of community support a referendum might get if put on the ballot.

&uot;This community does value education. It also values investing in the future,&uot; said Ken Petersen, chairman of the school board. Petersen addressed the crowd at a special school board meeting, saying the survey results had helped to make the decision in favor of another referendum, one year after voters turned down a similar fund request.

Email newsletter signup

This time, voters will be able to choose from two funding levels.

The referendum ballot will have two questions, the second question being contingent on the passage of the first. The first question will ask voters to pass a $365 per-pupil-unit increase, which translates to an $88 annual tax increase for an $80,000 house. The second question asks voters to pass an increase of an additional $125 per pupil. If both questions pass, it translates to a $123 tax increase for an $80,000 house.

The district chose the $80,000 house value for its estimates because it is the average price of a house in Albert Lea, Peterson said. Tax amounts will vary depending on the value of the property.

The two-part question was developed because the board felt it needed to give more choices to the community. But the board is hopeful that both will be passed.

&uot;We felt that the first question is a maintenance of where we’re at this year,&uot; said board member Tom Eaton. &uot;It doesn’t give us anything additional. It is not where we feel we would like to be as a school district. Question two is where we feel the district needs to grow to.&uot;

If the second question is approved, the district would be able to bring back some of the cuts made last year and add other programs, such as restoring busing to the one-mile rule for all elementary students, reducing class sizes in the upper elementary grades, instituting an all day, every day kindergarten program, restoring electives for the middle and upper schools, expanding the amount of core classes offered and restoring funding for cross-country running and the dance team.

The added property-tax levies would remain in effect for five years, but the board would be able to cancel them at any time if the funds are no longer needed.

The board did come under questioning during the special meeting. One citizen pointed out that the Albert Lea District is reaching out of district boundaries to bring in students from other school districts, who are also struggling with the same sort of budget problems. For every student at a school, the state provides roughly $5,000 to the district.

Superintendent David Prescott defended the district’s decision. &uot;These other districts have been busing students out of our district for years,&uot; he said. Eaton also pointed out later that the amount of students going out of the district is 100, while the amount that will be coming in is 60.

The board is not sure yet what parts of the district may be in danger if the referendum does not pass, but will be discussing the possibilities in the coming weeks. &uot;If this does not pass we can expect a rise in class sizes, a drop in the number of electives offered and less selections for core courses,&uot; said Prescott.

Dennis Dieser, the director of community group TEAM (Together Education Achieves More), said he was excited about the decision and that he looked forward to working to educate the public. &uot;We need to invest in our future. Our children need the tools to live and work in the world out there,&uot; he said.

Dieser said TEAM will begin to spread its message through neighborhood meetings, speakers, pamphlets and other public-relations efforts.

&uot;Thank you for your effort and commitment to this project,&uot; Dieser told the board. &uot;Now it’s our turn to work and inform the public.&uot;