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Referendum passing took change in attitude

n Editor's note: This is the first in a three part series about the Park Rapids School District levy referendum that will be on the Nov. 2 ballot. The first installment looks at the history of the school and passing of the first referendum in 2006. Other installments will outline what the levy dollars were used for and how the school will continue to utilize levy dollars if the referendum is continued.

Park Rapids Superintendent Glenn Chiodo thinks that continuing to have the trust of the public is an important factor in continuing the current levy referendum.

"Before the existing levy passed in 2006 there were some real concerns and there was some distrust," he said.

The district continued to emphasize the message that the $1.1 million referendum was needed to maintain existing programs. Parents became involved and the Orange Cross group stepped up to gather support of the community.

"Our message didn't change," Chiodo said. "We were in a crisis, at a real crossroads."

The district was looking at cutting all extra-curricular activities and elective classes.

The referendum passed in 2006 and Chiodo said at that point he realized attitudes were changing.

"It was like a black cloud was removed," he said.

The real work started in 2006, however. The district needed to make sure it used the levy dollars as promised and continue to have the support of the general public.

"We wanted to show them we were fiscally responsible and a part of the community," Chiodo said.

School board chairwoman Sherry Safratowich has been a part of the board for 17 years. She recalls the years before the 2006 levy passed and said it took a real parent push to make it finally happen.

"The Orange Cross was instrumental," she said. "It was an interesting mix of people but really brought the school and community together."

In the years shortly before the initial passing of the levy she said the school and community weren't meshing well.

"There has definitely been a change in trust," Safratowich said. "It wasn't easy but it has changed."

She agreed with Chiodo that much of the work began after the referendum passed.

The board has continued to make reductions and maintain a balanced budget.

The district is asking voters to "keep a good thing going" and support a continuation of the existing levy referendum on Tuesday, Nov. 2. The existing levy will expire in 2012.

The referendum is $1.1 million per year based on a per pupil unit. The district is asking for the same amount - not an increase.

If unsuccessful in renewing the referendum the district will need to make a million dollar budget reduction, which will affect programs and staff.

If the referendum is continued, programs and class offerings currently in place will be maintained.

There have been no increases in general education payments from the state since 2008. No increases are expected in the near future either.

The state has shifted payments to schools, requiring districts across the state to borrow money in the interim to maintain an adequate cash flow.

In 2008, districts received 90 percent of their payments with 10 percent held until later. In 2009 the shift was 73 percent and 27 percent and in 2010 it was 70 percent and 30 percent.

The financial impact of the referendum is $600 per pupil unit for five years, which is the same as the current referendum. The school board decided not to ask for an increase.

Because of the taxable market value in the district, taxes will likely decrease by a dollar or two on a typical home.

The estimated taxes for a $75,000 home are $73 a year. Other estimates are $97 for a $100,000 home, $145 for a $150,000 home and $193 for a $200,000 home.

The taxes will actually be slightly lower than the current taxes, Chiodo emphasized.

Read about what the levy funds have been used for since 2006 in the second part of the series in the Wednesday, Oct. 27 edition of the Enterprise.

Anna Erickson
Anna Erickson is editor of the Wadena Pioneer Journal.
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