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Cuts could come prior to fall vote

August 29, 2012
Kylie Saari - Staff Writer , Fairmont Sentinel

FAIRMONT - Fairmont Area School Board spent Tuesday evening hammering out a strategy on how to educate the public about school funding.

It is an important step in helping citizens understand the school's need to pass an operating levy in November, according to Superintendent Joe Brown.

The district is asking voters to approve an increase from $500 per pupil unit to $950. The hike would affect voters' property taxes.

The proposed increase is smaller than the amount the district sought last year. Voters threw out that proposal by a 2-1 margin.

The new levy request would raise just enough money to maintain the district's programs for the next four or five years. It also would require the district to use money in its fund balance to stay afloat.

"This proposal would only allow us to maintain," Brown said. "It won't allow us to hire one teacher or add one program. If we don't pass this, we will be in statutory operating debt."

Brown said the district is asking the average Fairmont homeowner for 32 cents per day.

Meanwhile, the consequences of not passing the levy could be clear even before the election. Brown has asked the school board to consider cutting the programs that would otherwise be cut if the levy doesn't pass, effectively giving the 7 to 10 teachers who will lose their jobs time to find positions, and the entire extracurricular program time to figure out its next steps. The extracurricular program includes all varsity sports, as well as academic teams.

Cutting the programs for 2013-2014 before the vote this fall will effectively make the election not about what programs to cut, but about what programs to reinstate.

Brown believes it is important that the community knows exactly what it will mean for the district to lose the referendum.

"You will lose your comprehensive school district," he said.

Minnesota school districts are funded primarily by state government - 84 percent of the local district's budget comes directly from the state. But Minnesota has cut funding increases to school districts, which continue to pay cost-of-living hikes.

Fairmont Area pays 2.2 percent to 2.5 percent each year in inflation - about $350,000. The state has allocated $50 per student to the district, or $86,000 - less than the cost of inflation.

Local property taxes comprise 14 percent of the school's $16 million budget, with the federal government making up the balance.

The school board directed Brown and his staff to come up with a list of teachers and programs that will be cut if the levy doesn't pass.

"I get the feeling people don't think we are really going to cut," Brown said. "But we have to."



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