Following a presentation on fall operating levy options, the Kenyon-Wanamingo School Board keyed in on what would work best for the district.
Although the board didn’t approve the resolution, all signs point to one question on the November ballot, in hopes of gaining $800 per pupil from the local operating levy. This would revoke the existing $296 per pupil, and replace it with an authorization of $800 per student, which would increase yearly with the inflation rate.
Since the deadline to announce the intent to put a referendum on the November ballot is just weeks away, board members will look to approve a resolution providing clear instruction at the Aug. 10 work session.
Financial consultant Barbie Roessler of Ehlers Public Finance Advisors indicated that to approve one question, instead of two the board did last fall, the question would remain as a revoke and replace since the current operating levy lasts through next year. In order for this to take affect in fiscal 2022, it needs to show the net impact.
Last fall, both questions on the ballot to increase K-W’s operating levy failed.
The first question, which sought to revoke the existing operating levy and replace it with a higher amount per pupil, garnered the support of 42% of voters. The second question, an additional levy authorization that was contingent on approval of the first question, was favored by 39% of voters.
The initial goal of the district 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.
Throughout the last several months, the district has been in cost-cutting mode, needing to slice $443,000 from the budget, mostly due to the dropping student enrollment numbers and state aid that hasn’t kept pace with inflation. Another part of the equation for budget reductions comes from the board’s decision to increase the fund balance — the balance left in a school district’s maintenance account, or checking account, less any accounts payable, at the end of the fiscal year — from 2% to 4%, meaning they need to spend less to be able to increase the fund balance percentage.
Superintendent Bryan Boysen, who has successfully passed an operating levy in his career, stressed the importance of empathizing with the voter and putting themselves in their shoes.
Following Boysen’s point, Board member Debb Paquin said she likes to remind people that as school board members living in the district, they too, empathize.
“I’m paying it too … our taxes are going up as well, but it’s for the betterment of everyone,” added Paquin.
Boysen explained the revoke and replacement of the current operating levy is for the investment in the community, especially since the roles of schools have changed over the years, and they offer more than just classroom space.
Added Boysen, “People need to know we’re all in this together.”
The board leaned toward accepting additional services Ehlers offers, like providing additional charts, property tax rebate calculators and a property tax impact website, instead of only the basic services. Boysen said the fact Ehlers can put together certain items, like the website and calculator, would help the district provide easily accessible information to voters.
“I’d recommend just getting everything on the menu because we are on an uphill battle just in with what’s going on in the world [due to the pandemic],” said Boysen.
Several board members agreed, saying any extra information would be beneficial.
Board member Marilyn Syverson said she didn’t want to miss out on any tools available to make the process easier and more understandable.
Said Board member Kevin Anderson: “We are in a day where people can sit at home and review this material. The days of group meetings are maybe gone. People will take the time to look if you give them the chance.”
To achieve passage the levy this fall, the board will look at breaking down the components of the question and its impact on taxpayers. Anderson believes they should strive to break the terminology down in numbers that are meaningful and make it understandable.
“They understand we need funds, we just didn’t do a good job of getting it out there [last year],” he said.
Board member Rod Woock echoed Anderson’s thoughts, saying it didn’t help that last year’s levy option was difficult to explain with all the needed revoke and replace terminology.