Multiple choice ballot debatedRed Wing School Board members balked Monday at setting a referendum amount, though support appeared strong for allowing more than one figure on the ballot.
By: Mike Longaecker, The Republican Eagle
Red Wing School Board members balked Monday at setting a referendum amount, though support appeared strong for allowing more than one figure on the ballot.
Board members could have settled on a figure at the meeting but opted to take the public’s temperature yet again with funding questions still looming.
While board members seemed comfortable with the concept of multiple choices on the September ballot, the biggest sticking point was how it would be presented.
One of the ballot questions, board members said, could propose setting the levy at a level that restores budget cuts — and calls for greater property tax increases.
But if a second question allows voters to select a less costly “baseline” amount, what, board members asked, might that constitute?
School Board member Neela Mollgaard said if a baseline equals current staffing and funding levels, that’s not reasonable in light of recent budget cuts.
“If people are going to be paying more tax dollars, they’re going to want to see a difference,” she said.
But if members of the public are expected to open their pocketbooks, School Board member Tim Kelly said the baseline option should be closer to “the bare minimum.”
For help with identifying that bottom line, the board is once again turning to the public for input before making a decision.
“They’re looking at us to give them that baseline,” Mollgaard said.
School Board member Stephen O’Keefe said he supports a multiple-choice ballot. But the baseline option, he said, needs to address whether revenue would keep pace with projected enrollment increases.
Finding out exactly what that baseline amount would look like will be up to Finance Director Brad Johnson. He is expected to update the board in advance of the board’s May 19 meeting, when a vote on the ballot question is expected.
The board could choose from varying referendum amounts ranging from a level that could restore budget cuts — but dip deeper into property taxes — to a renewal of the current referendum, which would mean an immediate return to the chopping block.
The other option voters will be left with is to simply vote “no” — a possibility school supporters shudder at.
“We know the ramifications of total failure,” School Board member Dave Jonas said.
A failed referendum would mean a $2.1 million funding gap — the equivalent of 38 teacher salaries, according to district data.
Referendum supporters say state funding has not kept pace with inflation, leading to more than $1 million in cuts since last school year.
Unlike other taxing jurisdictions, Minnesota school districts cannot set levies without voter approval.
District officials said they will announce in coming days when the next referendum meeting will be.
The public is encouraged to attend, including critics of the referendum, board members said.