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Nevis Sc­­­hool asks public for input on referendum

Nevis School District will be hosting a meeting to gather public opinion on an operating referendum.

The meeting, to be held at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 16 in the school's media center, will gauge the amount residents will accept as well as the period of years the referendum will be in place.

"We are going in with a blank sheet," superintendent Steve Rassier said of the meeting. "We'll talk to them first," he said of making decisions on what will go before voters in November.

The finance committee will meet at 6 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 18 to review the input.

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.

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.

"Now times have changed," Rassier said. "We need to ask for a local referendum."

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 state has not been stable in providing districts with funding, Rassier said. "This money is guaranteed."

The funds from an operating levy would be used for general operating expenses. "No new programs. It's to enhance what we've got," he said, including maintaining the 22 to 1 student-teacher ratio.

Several teachers will soon retire "and we want to be able to offer a competitive package," in recruiting new instructors, Rassier said.

"We are going into this with a blank sheet of paper," he said of the referendum. "After the meeting, we will put together the amount and years. "But we will talk to them first.

"This is not to build," he emphasized, "but to pay operating expenses."

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