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Commentary: Willmar voters face two school questions

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commentary Willmar, 56201
West Central Tribune
(320) 235-6769 customer support
Willmar Minnesota 2208 Trott Ave. SW / P.O. Box 839 56201

Nov. 4 is an important date for Independent School District No. 347. On that date voters in the district will determine the fate of operating levy requests approved by the Willmar Public Schools Board of Education in August.

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A question that has been asked a lot is, "Why does the district need more money?" This question has no easy answers.

One reason is that education funding at the state level has not kept pace with the increasing costs of educating children and running a school district.

Per pupil funding from the state has increased an average of 1.8 percent since 2003-04, and projections are that state funding will remain relatively flat for the next two years.

Costs to operate District 347 increase 3 percent to 5 percent per year in areas such as supplies, utilities, salaries, and benefits. When blended together, a small increase in state per pupil funding combined with rising operational expenses, the district is challenged to offer the high-quality educational programs demanded by our community.

These challenges were the basis for reductions totaling $2.5 million over the last four years. Projected deficits, according to the district's financial planning model, resulted in staff and program reductions, increased fees, and erosion of the district's fund balance. These pressures drove the Board of Education to seek approval of two operating fund levy questions this November.

The impact of passage or failure of the two questions is outlined in below:

- If voters approve only question 1: projected new revenue is $890,243; projected reductions total $1,646,379.

- If voters approve only question 2: projected new revenue is $1,653,838; projected reductions total $882,878.

- If voters approve questions 1 and 2: projected new revenue is $2,544,081; projected reductions total $0.

- If voters do not approve questions 1 and 2: projected new revenue is $0; projected reductions total $2,536,716.

Two questions are in front of the voters. The two questions are independent of one another.

In order for a question to be approved it must have a majority of yes votes. State equalization aid is an important component of this election. If either Question 1 or Question 2 is approved, the state provides a percentage of the funding.

If both questions are approved, the state provides almost 13 percent of the revenue to the district, with the remaining amount coming locally.

If you have questions or would like information about the operating levy, contact the district office at 235-8512 or members of the Board of Education.

A calculator for you to determine your personal financial impact is on the district Web site at www.willmar.k12.mn.us.

Kjergaard is superintendent of the Willmar Public Schools.

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