The Faribault School Board has completed the final step before asking voters to approve an operating levy to increase the district’s general education revenue.
At its Monday meeting, the board unanimously approved a resolution to hold a special election asking voters to approve two ballot questions. The first question will ask for a revenue increase to support a seven-period day at Faribault High School, while the second question asks for additional revenue to increase student academic support as well as revenue to support a 1-mile transportation radius for FHS. Currently, the high school operates on a 2-mile radius.
The tax impact of the operating levy for the average Faribault home would be an additional $65 per year if the first question is approved and an additional $34 per year with approval of the second question. That totals a $99 property tax increase per year if both questions are voter-approved.
Since the district is only allotted 10 words per each question title, School Board members voiced concerns at the June 24 meeting that the community wouldn’t have enough information to go by as they prepare to cast their ballots. However, Board member Jason Engbrecht said at Monday’s meeting that the two titles seem clear.
“Now, it’s the district’s responsibility to make sure voters know what they’re voting for,” said Engbrecht.
Board member Carolyn Treadway questioned whether or not the second title is specific enough for voters. The title, which reads, “Approval of Additional Revenue for Student Academic Support and Transportation,” mentions nothing about the district’s overall goal of maintaining class sizes. Treadway indicated this as a top priority for voters, as a recent survey showed 56% of those polled would support a levy that aims to keep enrollment numbers up.
The district’s enrollment has continued to dwindle as the number of students open enrolling in other districts, and charter and private schools has increased.
Believing most voters show up to the polls already swayed one way or the other, Board member Chad Wolff agreed with Engbrecht that educating voters in the upcoming months is key.
Moving forward, Interim Superintendent Todd Sesker said the next step is for a steering committee to focus on the emotional piece of the effort by collecting stories from the district and creating literature, which the School Board would then fact-check and approve.
According to Sesker, the district is about one month behind in the process of issuing the operating levy but a bit ahead in engaging the community in a discussion about introducing a seven-period day at the high school. Since the 1980s, FHS students have needed to squeeze both their required and elective classes into a six-period day. This has prevened many students from participating in more than one elective class per semester and sometimes leaves them little choice but to fulfill requirements during the summer. It’s believed that this conflict in schedule has contributed to students open-enrolling in other districts.
As far as consequences of the second question not being approved, Sesker said the result would mean more staff reductions and therefore fewer teachers in the district. This spring, the district already made nearly $2 million in cuts.
Changing the transportation radius at FHS from 2 miles to 1 mile would allow more students to access a bus ride to school. Sesker said this change could impact as many as 170 students. Parents were especially concerned about transportation during the harsh winter last school year, he said.
“Question one may be one of the most exciting opportunities the public school has had in quite a long time,” said Treadway. “A seven-period day is something we really have to be proud of for the community to have the opportunity to pass.”
Added Sesker: “I think this is a really, really great opportunity for the community to show support of our school system.”