St. Peter Public Schools will be on the ballot come November, and the district will be asking for increased local funding, in order to keep up with ever-increasing costs and continue to offer a full slate of programming.
The School Board July 12 agreed to propose a $410 per pupil local option operating levy, which is $227.90 per pupil more than the current levy. The change would be set for the next 10 years, starting with the 2022-23 school year. All funds from the local operating levy must go toward district programming and staff costs; it is separate from the local dollars contributed to the building referendum paying for the new high school.
For the average property owner in the school district area, the district estimates this levy change would amount to an increase of just under $60 per year on property taxes. The district also estimates that, if the levy increase fails (which would mean the current levy expires with no replacement), the loss of revenue would mean budget cuts of at least $425,000 per year.
Superintendent Bill Gronseth noted that the statewide average for local operating levies is $844 per pupil, so the St. Peter number is low in comparison; of course, that is impacted by high levies in large metro districts, but then again, it’s also impacted by small districts with small or no local levies.
The increase to dollars is vital and necessary, according to school officials and staff.
“This will help us to maintain our current levels of programming,” Gronseth said. “We had a discussion about the current referendum sunsetting, and with increasing costs, we are not able to keep up with the same level of programming that we have here.”
Gronseth one area of growing important in school districts across the state — career and technical education. Areas like that may be the first to see cuts if the district has to reduce programming to bare bones classroom education.
“In part of the meeting, we were talking about CTE curriculum, and that’s a great example of something we have in place and can provide for our students,” he said. “And the number of sports we’re able to provide for our students. And if we don’t have the increase, we wouldn’t be able to sustain those over time.”
School Board Chair Ben Leonard agreed. He noted that he has had four of his own kids go through the district, and he has appreciated the full and expansive programming the district has offered.
“I’m extremely proud of the education they’ve had, and that we’re able to offer all students,” he said. “Our high school students have the chance to experience many activities, earn college credit, and explore career training in health care, agriculture and manufacturing. Elementary and middle school students have small class sizes, intervention specialists and enrichment.”
He continued, “Elementary and middle school students have small class sizes, intervention specialists, and enrichment. When I think about the changes in education and the opportunities our kids have had over the last 10 years, I know St. Peter students are well positioned for success wherever they go and whatever they do.”
At the July 12 meeting, Vice Chair Tim Lokensgard noted the need to get the word out to residents over the newt few months.
“People want to know, ‘What do you need? What’s it going to cost me? What happens if you don’t get it?’” Lokensgard said.
Leonard provided some answers, telling the Herald, “What we need is to replace the current operating levy that is falling off with one that puts us in a position to continue successful programs for the next 10 years. What it will cost you depends on the assessed value of your house, business, or house and one acre of farmland. Over the coming months the district will provide more information for you to better understand the tax impact for you. If the levy fails, and the current levy expires at the end of next school year, then the district would not be able to maintain current programming.”