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School referendum to come before voters in November

Residents within the Albert Lea school district will have an additional decision to make on their ballot in the November general election. 

The Albert Lea school board voted 5-1 Monday night to approve asking voters to revoke the existing referendum of $573.74 per adjusted pupil unit and replace that with a referendum of $714.67 per pupil. The additional revenue will be used to finance school operations, particularly to maintain technology in a time where more of an emphasis is being placed on technology amid the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“All kids need to get a fair, equitable education, and I think we need to move forward with this so we can provide everyone with the technology it takes to receive that education,” said board member Ken Petersen. 

The existing referendum is slated to expire after the 2021-22 fiscal year. 

Jennifer Walsh, district executive director of finance and operations, said approving the increased operating referendum would bring in an additional $500,000 annually. 

The increase would equate to an additional property tax increase of $36 annually for a home or business with an estimated market value of $100,000. Owners of agricultural land would only be taxed on one acre, a house and a garage, but would not be taxed on additional agricultural land or buildings.

The board discussed whether to place the action as one question or two questions on the ballot.

Superintendent Mike Funk said he supported placing the action in one question on the ballot, as it would be more likely if phrased as two questions for one of the questions to get turned down. He described the funding not as luxury needs, but as operational needs.

School board member Jill Marin voted against the referendum coming before voters in one question and said she thought it should be two questions — one on whether to renew the existing referendum of $573.74 per pupil and a second on whether to add an additional $140.93 per pupil to give people more of a choice. 

“There’s already a pretty hefty tax burden on our community,” Marin said. 

Board member Angie Hanson was absent. 

The referendum revenue authorization would increase each year by the rate of inflation and would be in effect for 10 years. 

Walsh said there would be a website set up in the coming days where people can plug in the value of their property to see the tax impact. 

The board considered a capital project levy instead of the operating referendum to raise the additional $500,000, but ultimately voted against this option. 

Board members said education about the proposed referendum will be key for the community before the election.