Albert Lea school board approves referendum renewal question on November election ballots

Published 3:13 pm Tuesday, July 20, 2021

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At its regularly scheduled meeting Monday night, the Albert Lea school board voted to approve the question that would appear on the ballot in the November election regarding the renewal of the operating referendum. 

The renewal, if passed, would grant $580.99 of revenue per pupil, the same as it has been in previous years. The proposed referendum revenue authorization would increase each year by the rate of inflation and be applicable for 10 years beginning with taxes payable in 2022.

The estimated net change in referendum revenue would drop by just over $52,000. According to executive director of finance and operations Jennifer Walsh, the decrease in revenue is brought on by a slight projected decrease in enrollment. 

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Due to the small decrease in enrollment, property owners may see their taxes on the referendum levy decrease, provided their property value remains the same. According to a presentation given by Walsh, residential homesteads, apartments and commercial industrial properties with market values $50,000 and lower would see no chance in their referendum taxes, and properties between $75,000 and $175,000 would see referendum taxes decrease by $1. 

Voting will take place in the Nov. 2 election at the nine polling places designated by the school board in its December 2020 meeting. Voting will be in-person unless the voter requests an absentee ballot. 

The ballot will also include a note at the bottom reading “By voting ‘Yes’ on this ballot question, you are voting to extend an existing property tax referendum that is scheduled to expire.”

“I really like the wording here so people know it’s basically keeping what we’ve been doing,” said board member Dennis Dieser. 

In the 2020 election, the district asked voters to approve a new referendum that would have increased the per pupil revenue to $716.

“I think it’s important to remember too, because of the federal dollars that are coming down from the pandemic, it’s really allowing us to manage and help the community by not having to ask for more dollars now for computer and technology,” Dieser said.

Superintendent Mike Funk said the district will be sending out mail to all eligible voters, as well as using other ways to spread the message detailing the renewal referendum.

Board member Jill Marin said she has been approached by community members confused by the difference between the proposed renewal of the operating referendum and the building referendum passed in 2018 to build the new Hammer Complex, as well as other projects in the district. Walsh said it would be a focal point in community education to explain the difference between the two. 

“The bad news part of it is, if this doesn’t pass, we will have a couple million dollar shortfall in our budget moving forward,” Funk said. “So that is important to realize as well.”

In other action, the board: 

  • Heard a report from executive director of administrative services Kathy Niebuhr about COVID-19 protocols and masking policies when students return for the fall semester. (Read more about that here.

The decision to make masks recommended, but not required, was made at the administration level. Board member Angie Hoffman made the motion to amend the district’s masking policy to continue to allow the district administration to make changes to the masking policy without prior board approval to accomodate for a potential change in circumstances. However, if there were changes made to the masking policy, the board would need to vote to approve the changes at the following business board meeting for the changes to continue. 

The feedback I’ve been hearing from people on both sides of the masking issue is that they want representation from their elected leaders on this particular subject,” Hoffman said. “My purpose of this motion is to give more power to our local community, through the board, on the masking issue. If the board is involved, the community has the opportunity to sway our direction and — if we don’t do what they want — to eventually vote us out.”

Because the COVID-19 report was on the agenda as an informational item only, a two-thirds majority was needed to change it to an action item. Instead of attempting to change it to an action item, Hoffman tabled her motion until the board’s next scheduled business meeting, currently scheduled for Aug. 17. 

  • Had two members of the public sign up to address the board as part of the public forum. Community member Lisa Hanson was first, addressing some grievances she had while viewing a previous board meeting. As per school board policy, Hanson was stopped by board chair Dave Klatt after two minutes of speaking. 

In an email to the Tribune Tuesday afternoon, Hanson said there were several people gathered at the school board meeting to show support for the same message. 

“The people have the duty and responsibility to take part in government at all levels,” Hanson said. “When usurpation of authority occurs it must be called out and corrected.”

Tom Blondell was signed up to speak, but was stopped by Klatt after stating he was from Rochester. Klatt said school board public forum rules state that the speaker must reside within the school district. 

  • Voted 6-0 to approve paying annual membership dues to the Minnesota State High School League. Board member Kim Nelson was not present for the vote. 

Under the new formula used by the MSHSL, membership fees include a $100 base fee, a $225 per activity fee and a $6.35 per student fee. 

Using this formula, Albert Lea’s membership fee is estimated to be about $11,000. In previous years the membership fee was about $4,000, according to Funk. 

According to activities director Paul Durbahn, the big jump in fees came in the form of the $225 per activity fee and the $6.35 per student fee, which in previous years had been $160 and $1, respectively. 

These membership fees did not include the $9,000 COVID-19 fees, the Albert Lea school board voted not to pay at an earlier meeting. Funk said he has not yet received anything from the league regarding those payments not being made. 


About Tyler Julson

Tyler Julson covers sports for the Albert Lea Tribune.

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