Nevis School District plans to ask voters for operating levy
Nevis School District officials took time to listen to the public this week before making a recommendation on an operating levy.
"Some of our costs have been escalating beyond our control and the state funding shift will likely require us to borrow," said superintendent Steve Rassier.
The finance committee decided Thursday night to make a recommendation to the school board to ask voters for a seven-year operating levy Nov. 8. The recommended ballot will have two questions.
The first question will ask voters for $252 per student, which is double the current levy of $126 per student. This dollar amount came from input received at a public meeting Tuesday night. A member of the public said that was a number he thought could be supported by the community.
A second question will ask voters to support an additional $250 per student designated for technology.
The existing $126 per pupil levy, approved 10 years ago, will expire at year's end. This generates approximately $41,000 a year in revenue, which is well below state average. For comparison, Park Rapids voters approved continuing a $600 per pupil levy last fall, generating $1.1 million.
The median levy in the state is about $863 per pupil.
The district has reduced the general levy by 25 percent over the past two years, from a levy payable of $812,572 in 2009 to $606,821 this year. Further health and safety levies were not needed. The access for disabled is complete and refinancing of debt at a lower interest rate saved the district a considerable amount of money, all contributing to the lower levies.
But some areas of the budget are out of the district's control.
Utilities have increased tremendously over the last few years. For example, the school's sewer/water/electricity for the 2009-10 school year was $25,849 and increased to $48,499 for 2010-11. Heating fuel for the school increased from $32,258 for 2009-10 to $68,558 for 2010-11.
The district has budgeted accordingly for 2011-12.
The need for an increased levy is also made urgent because the district will not receive federal stimulus funds and will likely have to borrow to cover the state's 60-40 funding shift, like most districts across the state.
The finance committee listened to the public's suggestions to increase revenue but determined that while some of the ideas such as selling advertising on lockers or buses wouldn't generate enough revenue even if these avenues were pursued.
Board chairman Ed Becker questioned the legality of selling advertising on buses. Also, he said additional advertising is simply shifting financial responsibility from taxpayers to businesses.
"It shouldn't take the place of taxpayers' responsibility to support our school," he said.
The second question proposed for the ballot asking for an additional $250 per student for technology is also needed, the finance committee reasoned.
Technology is the future and by investing in this area Nevis can put itself ahead of other districts, Rassier said.
The district is also determined to maintain a low student to teacher ratio by capping open enrollment. The ratio has been 22 students to 1 teacher.
The recommendation will be discussed and decided on at Monday's Nevis School Board meeting, which starts at 7 p.m.