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Nevis School District looks at possible referendum

Nevis School District will likely be sending residents to the polls in November to make a decision on an operating levy.

The existing $126 per pupil levy, approved 10 years ago, will expire at year's end. This generated approximately $37,000 a year in revenue, well below state average. Park Rapids voters, for example, approved continuing a $600 per pupil levy last fall, generating $1.1 million.

The median levy in the state is currently $990.

Nevis voters defeated a proposed $475 per pupil operating levy last year, with 63 percent opposed.

Board member Andy Lindow said voters see the district as solvent and question the need for more funding from taxpayers. "If you're financially solid, why do you need a levy?" was the question posed.

"There was no urgency last year," superintendent Steve Rassier agreed.

Lindow urged "putting the numbers together," the finance committee to convene on the issue.

The $145,000 in federal stimulus money the district received will no longer be available, Rassier said.

"The urgency that was lacking last year is now here," he stated. The elimination of federal money, no increase in state dollars combined with increasing costs to operate all indicate a need to increase the operating levy, he said.

Rassier pointed out the district has reduced the local property tax by 25 percent over the past two years, from a levy payable of $812,572 in 2009 to $606,821 this year.

"The board is extremely concerned about residents of this district and their ability to pay the local tax, but at the same time is cognizant of the need to provide education for our students," he stated.

Discussion and recommendations on the matter are expected at the August meeting, with public meetings to be scheduled.

In other action, the board:

n Agreed to establish a committee to address the newly-formed Peace Lutheran Church's request for use of the facilities.

Board chair Ed Becker said the church's bid for the Velvet Antler and Whitetail Tavern was accepted.

School needs will take precedence, Becker said.

n Briefly reviewed a summary of the K-12 education bill approved by the Legislature, which includes a 60/40 funding shift.

A $50 increase in the formula "will cover the interest cost," Rassier noted. "Few districts will escape borrowing."

But he lauded a small schools revenue program for fiscal year 2013 and later for school districts with less than 1,000 students.

n Approved fees and admissions for the coming year, student lunch and breakfast prices to be bumped up a nickel, ticket prices to remain the same.

A proposal for substitute staff increases will be referred to committee.

The proposal is to increase substitute teachers' wage from $90 to $100 a day, an 11 percent increase. Classified substitutes would receive a 2.8 percent increase under the proposal, from $9 to $9.25 per hour. Board member Marv Vredenburg suggested the percentage be the same.

n Reviewed a summary of an evaluation of Rassier's performance.

"The board was unanimous in being very well satisfied with Steve's handling of the school's finances," board clerk Gary Stennes wrote.

"He searches and researches the best values when purchasing and prioritizes what we need and what we can do without during times when funds are not available," the summary states.

"He has worked hard in getting information out to the community but was asked to develop a better system that would delegate responsibilities to the teacher/advisor of activities. The board felt there should be more consistency in how much we hear of accomplishments of our students."

Rassier was "encouraged to communicate more with our government representatives" regarding legislative decisions.

"Overall, the board felt the year went quite smoothly with his leadership and thanked him for the important part he is playing in the Nevis educational system," Stennes concluded.

n Approved an 11-day student trip to Germany in November, presently seven students interested in participating.

n Nominated Stennes for the Minnesota School Boards Association Delegate Assembly.

n Approved a fuel quote from Luetgers Oil, with a four-cent per gallon discount, a milk quote from Cass Clay Creamery and baked goods quote from Sara Lee.

n Approved Mike Lien as junior high football coach following the resignation of Scott Kramer.

The board approved the resignation of Shelly Mahowald as volleyball coach and Sherm Anderson, football coach.

n Approved contracts with district independent employees.

n Will continue participation with the "valuable" Foster Grandparent Program.