Referendum will be multiple choiceVoters will have two levy funding options to pick from in September, with one of those dollar amounts already locked into place.
By: Mike Longaecker, The Republican Eagle
Voters will have two levy funding options to pick from in September, with one of those dollar amounts already locked into place.
After an intense, two-hour debate, Red Wing School Board members decided the less expensive referendum figure would be $936 per pupil.
The second option is expected to be determined Friday at a special School Board meeting. Board members requested district administrators to prioritize funding categories in time for the meeting.
“The sooner we can get that resolved, the better for the public,” Supt. Stan Slessor said after the meeting.
Voters can also choose not to renew the levy.
The amount approved Monday represents what some on the board consider a baseline — essentially, a continuation of current services. If approved, it would mean a $336 bump over current funding, though some on the board argued it was unacceptably low.
School Board member Perry Sekus offered an unsuccessful motion for $986 in per-pupil funding — an amount, he said, that would mean reducing elementary classroom sizes to 25.
Sunnyside Elementary Principal Patti Roberts said class sizes at her school are higher than other elementaries in neighboring districts.
School Board member Neela Mollgaard was the only supporter of Sekus’ baseline plan, which opponents said did not accurately portray the district’s current operational state.
“That’s why you have the second question,” School Board member Tim Kelly said.
If voters opt against renewing the referendum, which expires this year, the district will face a $2.1 million budget shortfall next year.
Monday’s debate, highlighted by intense dialogue between Sekus and Kelly, struck a philosophical note. Sekus said board members needed to show leadership and guidance to voters in championing his loftier proposal.
“At some point, we have to lead,” he said, “ ... and not leave it to the public to decide the bottom number.”
That sentiment rang true with Mollgaard, who offered up her husband as an example. As someone who’s not immersed in school funding matters, “he doesn’t have all the facts to make that decision.”
“The majority of the community does not have the amount of knowledge that the board does,” Mollgaard said.
Supporters of the $936 amount noted that, if passed, it would restore the $500,000 in cuts made to this year’s budget. That money could go directly to shrinking class sizes, supporters said.
But that’s not necessarily true, said School Board member Stephen O’Keefe. He noted that only a portion of this year’s cuts dipped directly into classrooms.
“I think there are other positions that are critical,” O’Keefe said, noting that district social workers and guidance counselors were also affected by budget cutting.
The $936 funding level passed 5-2, with Mollgaard and Sekus dissenting.
According to district data, that funding amount would mean a roughly $100 annual property tax increase for a $200,000 home.
Despite the rift over baseline funding, board members appeared united in their hopes of landing voter support for the higher amount.
A finance committee recommended the amount to be $1,046 — though last minute state funding adjustments helped dip the figure to $1,036.
Officials will be careful in balancing the final amount, so as not to create a wide spread between the two numbers.
Too distant a gap, and “some would say you’re giving me a false choice,” Slessor said.
Friday’s special meeting will be at 5:30 p.m. in the Red Wing High School’s Little Theatre.