Moose Lake School District seeks increased operating levyMoose Lake Independent School District 97 will ask voters to approve an operating referendum at November’s general election that represents an increase of $150 per pupil.
By: Wendy Johnson, Pine Journal
Moose Lake Independent School District 97 will ask voters to approve an operating referendum at November’s general election that represents an increase of $150 per pupil.
The district’s existing referendum of $250 per pupil is due to expire in 2012, and the board has proposed that amount be increased to $400 per pupil. With the state average currently at $847 per pupil, Superintendent Tim Caroline said this still leaves the Moose Lake district well below the state average.
“We took a close look at what our needs are and what it will take to meet those needs,” said Caroline, “and yet we tried to be respectful of what families are going through right now financially. We didn’t want to ask for any more than that, just because we could.”
Caroline explained that state funding has not kept up with inflationary costs, leaving districts to make up the difference as best they can.
“Schools now depend on referendum funds to provide the basic programs and educational opportunities our students and residents expect,” he said.
Some 90 percent of the state’s school districts currently have operating levies in place, and Caroline stated that at a recent school superintendents’ conference, he learned more and more of them are depending on levy money from local taxpayers just to meet basic needs.
If passed in the Nov. 2 election, the Moose Lake operating levy would represent a tax increase of $63 per year, or $5.25 more per month, for a resident whose home is valued at $200,000. That same homeowner, who is currently paying $105 per year in support of school and student programs, would pay a total of $168 per year under the proposed levy.
The district hosted a school board candidate and referendum forum Tuesday evening to give residents the opportunity to learn more about who and what will be on the ballot in November.
Caroline said he has also made presentations regarding the proposed referendum at meetings of the Moose Lake City Council, Moose Lake Township, the Kiwanis Club and the Moose Lake Chamber of Commerce.
“The feedback seems to be very positive so far,” he commented. “When people hear that the state average is far more than what we’re asking for, they are very appreciative we’re not trying to be greedy, and that’s what we want as well…. I received an e-mail from one parent who said, ‘My child is worth more than $400 per year!’”
He said the residents of the district have historically been very supportive of operating levies, the most recent of which were passed in 1995 and again in 2001.
If the referendum fails to gain the approval of the voters, Caroline said the district will have one more chance to bring the proposal back before the voters before the current levy runs out in 2012. If the referendum should happen to fail once again, however, he said the district would stand to lose some $300,000 in revenue, which he said would be “devastating” for the district. Not only would it stand to result in larger class sizes (which currently average 21-23 students per classroom), elimination of some electives, increased fees and an inability to keep up with routine textbook and technology purchases, but it would likely result in program cuts, which Caroline said would inevitably mean staffing reductions as well.
“I think this referendum is actually more important than the facilities referendums we’ve tried for in the past,” admitted Caroline. “This is where the rubber really hits the road – what’s going on in our classrooms.”