Column: A few things to know before the school voteThe Nov. 6 election will feature three important funding questions for the Red Wing School District. Due to required legal language, the questions may appear confusing, and you certainly will wonder if it will affect your property taxes.
By: Brad Johnson, The Republican Eagle
The Nov. 6 election will feature three important funding questions for the Red Wing School District. Due to required legal language, the questions may appear confusing, and you certainly will wonder if it will affect your property taxes.
In this column, I hope to explain some of the facts.
First, many people have asked what the 2008 operating referendum accomplished. The district promised that the referendum would reduce class sizes by adding five new sections, improve intervention, and increase technology.
Instead of five sections, nine were actually added; kindergarten class sizes fell from 25 to 21 and overall elementary classes dropped by an average of two students. Test scores improved significantly, and 60 percent of classrooms now have Smartboards.
The district also regained financial stability and has not made budget cuts since 2008; fund balances are out of the red and finally at an average level for a school district.
Question 1 is the first and most important question for the schools. This question asks voters to approve a renewal of the current operating referendum for five years. No increase in revenue nor property taxes is involved.
The referendum question uses the term $1,111.41 per pupil as required by law; the referendum actually provides $3.9 million to $4 million of the district’s general revenue.
This is about 15 percent of the total, and equivalent to the salary and benefits of 65 teachers (one-third of the total), double the entire transportation budget, six times the athletic budget, or five times the utility budget.
State general aid has increased at only 0.7 percent a year (less than 1 percent) since 2001, making referendums such as this a necessity in 90 percent of all school districts. Without the renewal, severe budget cuts would be needed.
To summarize, voting “yes” on Question 1 will keep the same tax level as current but allow the schools to continue the progress made from the 2008 referendum.
And we thank you for your support in the 2008 vote!
Question 2 requests approval of a $33 million bond for capital improvements. Half of this amount would be allocated to adding 27 classrooms and support space to the Burnside Elementary campus.
Since about 2004, elementary schools have been subject to overcrowding, and the recent closure of parochial schools has increased the problem. This added space would reduce the crowding and allow the move of all K-4 students to an updated, modern building at one site.
Operating costs, including transportation, would drop by concentrating elementary students at one location.
The remaining half of Question 2 would pay for a wide scope of maintenance and repair items that have been delayed due to lack of funding, including several roofs, parking lots, and heating, cooling, and plumbing upgrades and repairs. State funding formulas limit the available money for these projects; this would remove the dilemma of shifting classroom funding to urgent maintenance items.
What is the tax impact of a $33 million bond in Question 2?
Since the debt payments for the construction of Burnside and the high school expire after this year, the tax impact for the new bond will be zero. The new bond will replace the retiring debt at the same level; the bond payments will essentially be extended for 18 years.
Annual taxes for both Questions 1 and 2 will remain flat.
Question 3 requests approval of a $4.6 million bond for athletic facility repairs. Major items are the high school track and tennis courts, affected by soil condition problems, and the roof and ventilation at the Prairie Island Arena.
Costs for this question will run about $23 a year for a $200,000 house.
The passage of the three Red Wing School District questions will allow schools to continue annual improvements in class size and education, to catch up lagging maintenance and repair issues, and to ensure safe athletic facilities for our students.
The time for bonding is favorable with low interest rates. The approval of these questions also promises a nearly flat property tax hit to the voter.
I hope this column helped explain the issues, and whatever your decision may be, I hope you all take time to vote and make sure your opinion is counted on Nov. 6.