For the third time in as many years, the Kenyon-Wanamingo School Board is asking district voters to approve an operating levy on a November ballot.
The board voted Aug. 18 to put an operating levy renewal and replacement on the ballot, an effort it says will keep the district from required state oversight of its finances.
Board members have worked over the last several months, paying close attention to the wording of the ballot question. Another failed referendum would likely put the district in statutory operating debt, a situation in which the state steps in to ensure the district stays afloat.
That scenario has parents and other members of the community working behind the scenes through the “KW Vote Yes” committee on Facebook.
At the beginning of this year, the district began making cuts to programming — on top of reductions made last year. The board most recently approved $329,000 in reductions for the 2021-22 budget, which included reductions in transportation, staffing (retirement) and vendor contracts. The previous year, $443,000 was sliced from the budget.
Reductions have been needed partly due to dropping student enrollment numbers and state aid that hasn’t kept pace with inflation. The district’s initial goal was to take advantage of the extra funding available due to legislative changes since the first levy was put in place, while staying in front of potential cuts.
The last operating levy was passed in 2013, and since then, inflation has reduced the district’s purchasing power by about 3% each year.
The group’s page was first created in October 2017, soon before the building bond referendum question was put on the ballot. Supporters ordered “Vote Yes! Proudly Support our Students” signs to place in high-traffic areas of the district. They also encouraged kids to make their own signs to show the community they wanted the building improvements as well. Questions received from the public were posted on the page, followed by answers. That November, a total of 940 votes were cast. Both questions passed with 60% of voters in favor.
In 2020, 62% of voters said no to the larger operating levy, and in 2019, the first of two questions, which sought to revoke the existing operating levy and replace it with a higher levy, garnered the support of an even smaller percentage of voters — 58%. The second question, an additional levy authorization that was contingent on approval of the first question, was favored by 39% of voters. A total number of 3,137 votes were cast in the 2020 — a presidential election year —. Not quite 900 votes were cast in 2019.
There are 17 precincts within the K-W School District — one township in Dodge County, nine townships and three cities in Goodhue County, three townships in Rice County and one township in Steele County.
Jessica Flotterud, a Wanamingo parent of children in the district, joined the committee last fall.
After watching the levy fail and listening to fellow parents and community members talk about why they didn’t vote yes, Flotterud said it became very eye opening to her that voters are either misinformed or never sought out information to make an educated vote.
District officials and board members hosted informational meetings leading up to the election last fall, and Vote Yes committee members shared informational posts on the Facebook page, among other things.
If the levy were to fail again this fall, Flotterud worries about how it may change the combined school district and how many families it could negatively impact if it came down to redistricting. When it comes to supporting the district’s children and their futures, Flotterud doesn’t want to see division in the district’s communities, part of the reason why she wanted to be a part of the Vote Yes group to help inform voters on the facts, and truly the needs of this upcoming election.
Stressing the importance that levies are for learning — also listed on the Vote Yes Facebook page’s about section — Flotterud says the children in both communities deserve support in getting this levy passed.
“Our schools need it, our kids need it,” said Flotterud.
Heather Kerr, Kenyon parent of children in the district, said she took over the Vote Yes Facebook page when Tonya Craig was elected to the School Board. While they they don’t have a list of committee members per say, the committee does have a group of supporters they are able to reach to for help when needed.
In the next week or two, supporters plan to meet with a representative from the Minnesota Department of Education on how to move forward, and what their focus should be in order to get this operating levy passed.
Board members unanimously approved the resolution, confirming the ballot question to increase general education revenue to $950 per pupil. A portion of the proposed new authority would replace the existing $295.68 per pupil levy, which expires next year. The additional revenue would be used to finance school operations.