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Administrator’s Corner: School technology, referendum needed

Administrator’s Corner by Jennifer Walsh

 

Last January, my column in the Tribune touted the school district’s investment in student and staff technology. Little did we know then how important the availability of reliable technology was to become.

When the pandemic hit and districts closed in March, Albert Lea Area Schools were better positioned to transition to distance learning than most districts. We quickly got a device into the hands of every student and internet hot spots to those without connectivity in their homes.

Jennifer Walsh

The investment then, and certainly into the future, is necessary to provide our students with the tools they need. Most of us cannot imagine navigating today’s world without a computer, smartphone or iPad, and it is no different for student learning.

This vital investment, however, puts a significant strain on the district budget. In order to replace devices on a timely basis, maintain the network and firewalls, and hire staff to support the infrastructure and computers the district spends in excess of $1 million a year. These expenditures come out of the general operations budget.

We are coming up on the renewal of the current operating referendum, so the school board voted to put a ballot question on the upcoming election to increase the current referendum of $574 per pupil by $141 to $751 per pupil. If successful, the increase will generate an additional $500,000 to help mitigate the technology expenditures. The tax impact on a home valued at $100,000 is estimated to be $36 per year. This type of ballot question does not impact agricultural land other than the house, garage and one acre.

The revenue increase will also help offset an expected freeze on K-12 funding from the state in light of the projected deficit in the state budget. Approximately 80% of the district’s revenue comes from state aid, so a freeze will have a major impact on district finances. 

If you have any questions about the referendum, please contact me at jennifer.walsh@alschools.org.

Jennifer Walsh is the executive director of finance and operations for Albert Lea Area Schools.