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School district has plans to ration referendum dollars

n Editor's note: This is the last installment of a three part series about the Park Rapids School District levy referendum that will be on the Nov. 2 ballot. This installment looks at how the school will continue to utilize levy dollars if the referendum is continued.

The Park Rapids School 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 was passed in 2006. The passing of the levy took several years to come together

"We were in a crisis" in 2006, said Superintendent Glenn Chiodo. "We looked at cutting all extra-curricular activities and elective classes."

Chiodo spoke to an audience at a Park Rapids League of Women Voters forum Tuesday.

He said in 2006 the number one question he was asked was "is this a bluff?" It wasn't, he reiterated.

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.

"We've worked off of retirements and are as lean as ever," Chiodo said. "I believe we've shown we can manage these additional funds."

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.

"It's become obvious that we almost need one to maintain," Chiodo said.

If the referendum is continued, programs and class offerings currently in place will be maintained. Chiodo said he would also like to add sections in the elementary level to lower existing class sizes. Co-curricular activities will also be maintained.

Class sizes now are between 23 and 27 students depending on the class. Ideally, class sizes would be between 18 and 20, Chiodo said.

The district received a grant to hire a student success coordinator that will work with at-risk students in the middle school.

"If it's successful we'd like to move toward a school within a school type of model," he said.

The hope is the coordinator will help the students who get lost in the shuffle have better test scores and eventually have better graduation rates, Chiodo said.

The idea for a student success coordinator and school within a school concept was very successful in Thief River Falls, where Chiodo used to work.

"The success was overwhelming," he said.

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, 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.

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

He said he's proud of the fact the district is in a better situation.

"The only reason we've gotten here is because we buckled down," Chiodo said. "It always comes down to 'what do you want your school to look like?'"

Anna Erickson
Anna Erickson is editor of the Wadena Pioneer Journal.
(218) 631-2561