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Park Rapids School District referendum has maintained programs, budget

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

After the Park Rapids Area Schools levy referendum passed in 2006 the real work began.

"We had to follow through on our promises to be fiscally responsible and use the funding wisely," said Park Rapids Superintendent Glenn Chiodo.

As the district asks voters to renew the existing $1.1 million referendum, Chiodo said he's confident the district has kept its promise. It's asking voters to "keep a good thing going."

Since the levy passed, the district has been able to maintain its budget while continuing to offer programs and class offerings. Kindergarten has increased sections based on enrollment. The existing levy will expire in 2012.

The district has continued to be conservative, though, with budget reductions the last two years.

In 2009, $658,000 was cut from the budget and in 2010, $510,000 was trimmed.

"Retirements have been key," Chiodo said. "We're lean as ever and I think we've shown we can manage these funds."

School board chairwoman Sherry Safratowich agreed that retirements have helped. She said reductions have been made to the budget over the years to keep the district healthy.

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.

"I asked before 'is this enough?' and the answer was 'probably not' but I don't think we can ask anyone for more right now," Safratowich said.

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

Chiodo said the levy is necessary simply to maintain the current operations of the school.

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

"We've had no indication things will be better at the state level for a while," Safratowich said. "We have to work under that assumption."

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, Chiodo said 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.

Read about plans for levy dollars in the third part of the series in the Saturday, Oct. 30 edition of the Enterprise.

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