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Paynesville Press - May 1, 2002

School district levy passes, 1,142-873

By Michael Jacobson

Voting The second time proved to be the charm.

Voters in School District #741 approved a $415 per pupil levy on Tuesday, April 23, on a vote of 1,142 to 873, to the delight of the school board, administration, and school supporters who attended the board meeting on Tuesday night.

"I feel like the munchkins after the witch died," said a joyous Dr. Bob Gardner, who chaired the "Keep the Quality" campaign, after the vote total was announced and canvassed by the board. "That's great."

The passage of the levy was a goal of the "Keep the Quality" campaign, which raised $65,000 for the school in less than a month in February to reduce the amount the district would have to cut from its 2003-04 budget. The school board and administration, with the help of "Keep the Quality" members, made a much more concerted, public effort to explain the need for the levy to the community this time.

This time, they attended numerous meetings of local organizations and boards. Supporters organized lawn signs, wore buttons, paid for advertising, wrote Letters to the Editor in favor of the levy, and even hosted a free, public dinner.

After the vote was announced, school board chairman Patrick Flanders thanked the board, administration, staff, and "Keep the Quality" members for supporting the levy effort so enthusiastically. "Our approach in November was wrong," he admitted, before thanking people for getting the school's message out so effectively.

The vote, with 2,018 ballots cast, was the largest turnout for a school district election since 1987.

To erase the 200-vote deficit in November (when a $315 per pupil levy was rejected 687-886), supporters of the levy attracted 440 extra voters. The number of "no" voters was basically constant in both elections (dropping by only 13 last week), but the efforts of the school board and levy supporters apparently reached enough new "yes" voters to reverse the result this time.

Included in those 440 additional voters last week were 182 people who registered on election day. Superintendent Howard Caldwell theorized that these new registrants were largely new parents and other young voters.

The $415 per pupil levy will go on local property taxes in 2003 and will not be available to the school district until the 2003-04 school year...the year after next.

The district will still have to make the cuts that were approved this winter for the 2002-03 school year, which starts next fall. But the levy - which is expected to produce an additional $560,000 in revenue in 2003-04 - should reduce the need for future budget cuts and should enable the district to reinstate some of the cuts of the last two years.

Since the district is in Statutory Operating Debt, without extra revenue from a levy, the state would require the district to make more budget cuts. While the district will still need to cut some spending to offset declining enrollment, the levy should reduce the need to do this.

Half of the money for the levy will come from the state. Of the $560,546 the district would receive in 2003-04, $277,645 (or 49.5 percent) would come from local property taxes and $282,901 (or 50.5 percent) would come from the state.

The levy does mean additional property taxes for residential, commercial, and agriculture homestead properties. (For agricultural homesteads, only the house, garage, and one acre of land is taxable.) To pay for the local share of the levy, property valued at $50,000 would pay $62 for the year; property valued at $100,000 would pay $125; property valued at $150,000 would pay $187; property valued at $200,000 would pay $250; and so on.

Seasonal/recreational property and agriculture land is exempt from the school levy, thanks to last year's tax reform.

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