School levy failsA proposed property tax levy increase for the Lake Superior School District failed as voters cast ballots at a 2-1 margin against all three questions.
A proposed property tax levy increase for the Lake Superior School District failed as voters cast ballots at a 2-1 margin against all three questions. The counting of mail-in ballots began Tuesday evening and went until 2 a.m. Wednesday. There were 5,021 ballots sent back of about 9,500 mailed to registered voters by the district.
- Question 1 ($550): 1,420 yes; 3,551 no.
- Question 2 ($425): 1,676 yes; 3,264 no.
- Question 3 ($300): 1,773 yes; 3,164 no.
“It makes a pretty strong statement,” Superintendent Phil Minkkinen said. “We are going to look for ways to economize.”
“It’s disappointing,” said school board member Dwight Moe. “I don’t know what we are going to do.”
Minkkinen said it’s unlikely the district will cut programs and, or teachers next school year but it looks like it will have to make cuts in 2011-12, when the budget shortfall is expected to reach nearly $1 million.
The school board met Wednesday and members voted for a four-day school week beginning this fall to save the district about $250,000 a year.
Minkkinen put blame for the failed vote on a bad economy and bad timing. He also theorized that a “vast majority” of voters “don’t have kids in school.”
Minkkinen said future cuts could come in the arts, business and industrial arts.
He said some programs may need to be combined between Two Harbors and Silver Bay.
“Everything is open now,” Moe said. “I’m not surprised [with the levy failure]. It’s going to be a tough sell.”
The ballots were counted in the community room at Two Harbors High School by 12 election judges. Ballots were removed from return envelopes with people’s name on them by one person and then put in a pile for other judges to keep the vote secret.
Judges used letter openers to open envelopes to avoid tearing ballots. There were problems with ballots getting caught in the voting machine because they had to be folded in the mailing process.
Prior to 8 p.m., judges were allowed compare returned ballot envelopes with a list of registered voters. Residents were also allowed to come to the room to vote.
A failed levy is nothing new to the district.
Levy votes failed in 2006 and 2007. In 2006, the district was facing a $1.3 million deficit which led to the loss of 25 jobs.
Some in the public have argued the district has not been financially responsible. Others look at the school building in Two Harbors, opened in 2005, and think it cost too much and voters were tricked into agreeing to build it.
Minkkinen said many things have been done to curb spending, such as making buildings more energy efficient, going out for bids to get cheaper health insurance, and a recent two-year salary freeze for all employees in the district.
The recent state budget bill will delay about $1.9 billion of state payments to schools from the current two-year budget into future budgets. Minkkinen said the district will at least see its delayed payments at some point rather than getting a reduction. He wasn’t sure when it would get the money.
Jack Pichotta of the school board said the delay in funding could have a dark side. “We may not see that money ever,” he said Wednesday in a discussion about implementing the four-day school week.
Minkkinen did not rule out doing some short-term borrowing.
Payments were withheld beginning March 15, when district would have received $428,836. On March 30, it was supposed to receive $526,618 but will get $218,723. After that date, aid payments will resume as normal. The total withheld will be $647,559.
Minkkinen doesn’t think the district will ask for a levy next year but it will be in need of money. He said if the district goes forward and uses its fund balance, which serves like a savings account, the district would be broke in three or four years.
One of the levy questions had asked for $425 per pupil unit, which means property taxes would go up $69.94 a year on a $100,000 home for 10 years. There was also an option for an increase $300 per pupil unit, which would increase property taxes by $49.37 on a $100,000 home for 10 years. A third levy option asked for $550 per pupil unit, which would mean about a $90 increase in annual property taxes per $100,000 for 10 years.
The school board had hoped if the $550 question passed, schools would stay open five days a week next year, more buses could be purchased, more money could be spent on curriculum items including arts, and possibly a lowering of athletic fees. The school pool would also stay open.
If the $425 had made it through the vote, the levy increase would have meant more curricular items being purchased along with buses, plus schools would stay open five-days a week next year.
If only the $300 was passed, funds could only be used for buses and curricular items and a four-day week could be implemented.
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