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Amount of ACGC levy to be decided Monday

ATWATER -- It's "100 percent" certain that another levy referendum will be held this fall in the Atwater-Cosmos-Grove City School District to help raise revenue for the financially strapped district, which is in statutory operating debt.

What's not yet known is how much will be requested.

The ACGC School Board is expected to make that decision at its Sept. 26 meeting, which will be at 7 p.m. at the elementary school in Atwater.

The board held a special meeting Monday night to hear about the state's requirements and the district's options for making -- and living with -- a plan to get out of statutory operating debt within three years. Under Minnesota law, statutory operating debt occurs when the operating fund balance at year-end is a negative amount that exceeds 2.5 percent of operating expenditures.

The board tabled a resolution calling for a special mail-in ballot referendum. The proposed resolution called for a Nov. 22 election with a proposed per-pupil amount of $739. That was tabled to allow more time to analyze the data and come up with a levy figure that will "do the job without over-taxing people, said Superintendent Pamela Kyllingstad in a telephone interview Tuesday.

Dr. Charles Speiker, from the Minnesota Department of Education, met with the board for about 2½ hours to discuss the plan and to get the message across that the state takes the plan seriously and expects district to live up to the solutions.

The state allows schools to have a maximum of 2.5 percent debt. ACGC has about 6 percent, said Kyllingstad.

She said there were no "big mistakes" or actions that were "so wrong or so radical" that put the district in statutory operating debt. Instead, she said, there was only a desire over the years to maintain strong educational programs during times of "lean federal funding." She said the "seeming necessity to finger point" was a bit discouraging.

Two things that will most certainly be included in the plan, said Kyllingstad, are budget cuts and a referendum to ask voters to approve a tax increase to generate more revenue.

She said she and the business manager will use a financial worksheet that Speiker provided to plug in numbers to help reach a decision on how much new revenue will be needed "without asking for more than we need."

By the same token, the board was advised by Speiker to make decisions based on what they want the school district to look like when the process is done and to be "true to the kids," said Kyllingstad.

Although working out of statutory operating debt will be a painful process, Kyllingstad said she's confident the district "will be able to do this, and do it with integrity."

Between asking for more money and making budget cuts, there are "no other good options," said Kyllingstad. In the worst-case scenario, if the district doesn't get out of statutory operating debt within the prescribed time frame, the state could take over the district's operations.

The district's plan is due before Jan. 31, 2006.

Carolyn Lange

A reporter for more than 30 years, Carolyn Lange covers regional news with the West Central Tribune.

(320) 894-9750
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