Barnum asks for operating referendumAdd Barnum to the growing list of Carlton County school districts – along with Cloquet, Esko and Moose Lake – asking voters to approve an increased operating levy this November.
By: Jana Peterson, Pine Journal
Add Barnum to the growing list of Carlton County school districts – along with Cloquet, Esko and Moose Lake – asking voters to approve an increased operating levy this November.
Strictly looking at numbers, Barnum may have the best chance of all the districts at passing its referendum because – regardless of whether voters pass the referendum or not – the school district’s portion of their taxes will decrease.
With its current $200 per resident pupil operating referendum expiring after the current school year, the Barnum School District is asking voters to approve a $400 per resident pupil operating referendum for the next 10 years. However, the last levy for the building bonds issued in 2002 and 2008 were paid this year, thereby reducing property taxes.
The proposal does not increase residents’ taxes by the per pupil rate.
According to an informational brochure from the district, if the current $200 operating referendum expires and is not replaced, a home valued at $100,000 would pay $200 less per year in the debt service and operating referendum levies portion of the district taxes than was paid in 2011. If the new $400 referendum is passed, that same $100,000 home owner will pay $116 less than was paid in 2011, a difference of $84.
“We’re at a point in time that we’re paying off debts we’ve had for several years,” said Barnum Superintendent David Bottem. “So people will still see a tax decrease for the school’s portion of their taxes. I can’t speak for anyone else,” he added, referring to the fact that a person’s property taxes also include taxes for their city or township and county of residence.
Bottem said he spoke about the referendum at a parent and teacher meeting earlier this week, where the response was mostly positive.
“We understand what the economy is like; unfortunately the state is not keeping up with funding and we need to look out for the health of the district,” he said, noting that the Barnum School Board voted unanimously to ask for the operating levy referendum at its Aug. 16 meeting. “People asked about the state withholding but seemed more concerned about what we are going to do for the kids, and keeping class sizes small.”
The district would use the approximately $300,000 per year generated by the referendum in a number of ways, Bottem said, including the following:
• Elementary class sizes would remain small;
• An additional Early Childhood Family Education class would be provided to ensure school readiness;
• The curriculum cycle and the purchase of books, educational materials and equipment would remain on schedule;
• Smart Boards, iPads, laptop and desktop computers, WiFi and other technology would continue to be added and updated for students’ use;
• A variety of high school electives and college credits would still be offered;
• District buildings, equipment and grounds would be maintained as scheduled;
• The money would also help cover increased transportation costs as well the replacement of buses and vans as scheduled.
In short, Barnum is simply asking for help to maintain the existing educational standards in the district.
They are not alone.
Statewide, a total of 113 districts are asking for operating levies this fall, while another 20 are asking for a capital lease levy or bond. That’s a total of 133 districts asking voters for some type of help in November.
Locally, voters in the Carlton School District passed a do-or-dissolve levy referendum last November amounting to $1,100 per pupil unit (ppu). In Esko, the district is asking for a $341 ppu operating levy, to replace the previous $1 ppu levy that will sunset next year. In Moose Lake the district will ask voters for an operating referendum that would increase the current $250 per pupil rate (expiring at the end of the school year) to a $450 per pupil rate. The Cloquet School District is asking two referendum questions: the first question asks for a renewal of the existing referendum revenue authorization of $97.61 ppu, while the second asks for voters to approve an additional $275 ppu. Cloquet voters would have to vote yes on both questions in order for the second question to pass.
In most cases, declining enrollment isn’t the issue. The vast majority of districts can point to one source for their difficulties: state funding. According to the Association of Metropolitan School Districts, not only has state funding failed to keep pace with inflation – funding increased 11.4 percent between 2003 and 2011 while inflation grew by 35.1 percent in that same period – it’s also not paying its share of special education costs. Adding to already stressed school budgets is the budgetary “shift” that the state legislature and governor included in the most recent budget, which basically only pays schools 60 percent of what they’re due from the state, with the other 40 percent to come at a later time.
“In 2009, the state owed us [the Barnum School District] $900,000,” Bottem said. “A year later, we have $2 million plus in I.O.U.s in our books from the state. That’s paper we can’t spend.
“It could be 2014 or 2016 before we see the money – if we see the money,” Bottem said.