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Defeat of levy means deep cuts for ACGC

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Willmar, 56201
Willmar Minnesota 2208 Trott Ave. SW / P.O. Box 839 56201

GROVE CITY -- The defeat of an operating levy Thursday will force the Atwater-Cosmos-Grove City School Board to dig deep into the budget to get out of statutory operating debt.

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"It means we have to make some serious cuts. Deeper than we care to," said John Cunningham, chairman of the ACGC School Board. "We're back to looking at all the options."

Because 88 percent of ACGC's budget is to pay for staff, reductions in the budget will come in the form of reduced staff and student programs, said Cunningham. "It's not good news," he said.

District voters defeated the levy on a vote of 1,253 to 802.

There were a total of 2,105 ballots cast, with 50 ballots spoiled, said Superintendent Pamela Kyllingstad. A break-down of how the three communities voted was not available.

Kyllingstad said she was pleased with the 57 percent voter turnout, but had hoped for a different result. "Even though we failed, I'm pleased with the fact that there were so many people that participated," she said in an interview Friday afternoon.

If the $450 per pupil unit levy had passed, it would have generated $438,000 annually for seven years. The board planned to use the new revenue, plus some budget cuts, to work the district out of statutory operating debt. ACGC was put on the state's official list for statutory operating debt this year when the district's debt exceeded 2.5 percent of its unreserved general fund balance.

The board needs to submit their plan to the state by mid-January for how the district intends to get out of statutory operating debt within three years.

After the school board ratifies the vote at their meeting Monday night, board members will meet with the finance committee to discuss options for cutting future budgets. The district hasn't completed teacher negotiations yet, which will also be taken into consideration when looking for ways to reduce expenditures.

Kyllingstad said it's impossible to cut enough from the budget in one year to get out of statutory operating debt. She said the board will discuss "the way we want our district to be" and make cuts that will span several years.

Because the budget is set for the 2005-06 school year, the only way to reduce the budget this year is to not replace employees who recently resigned.

Kyllingstad said she will recommend to the board that the district attempt to pass another operating levy during the general election in November.

Districts in statutory operating debt can get permission from the state Department of Education to hold another special mail-in ballot election shortly after a negative vote. Even if a levy was approved in January, Kyllingstad said it would be too late to affect the 2006 levy.

Rather than go through the expense of another special election, she said it makes sense to wait until the general election in November. Kyllingstad said because of the cumbersome and time-consuming process of registering and opening the mail-in ballots, she doubts the district will choose that method again.

Even though the completed ballots were at the district office by 8 p.m., processing the ballots took longer than expected. Election judges didn't start counting the votes until after 11 p.m. on Thursday. They finished at 5:15 a.m. Friday.

Cunningham was disheartened by the vote results. He said he hoped that residents who recently started attending meetings to discuss the school budget will continue to be involved and help the district through the upcoming challenges. He said his children have graduated from ACGC or are currently attending school in the district. "I can't think of a better place for them to graduate from," he said.

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West Central Tribune (320) 235-6769 customer support
A reporter for more than 30 years, Carolyn Lange covers county government and regional news with the West Central Tribune.
(320) 894-9750
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