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For districts whose levies failed to pass this week, the work has only just begun

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Two area school districts whose operating levies failed Tuesday will be looking for ways to cut budgets and still maintain as much of their staff and programs as possible.

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More than 70 percent of school operating levies were approved by their school districts' voters on Tuesday.

Levies in Lac qui Parle Valley, MACCRAY and Renville County West were approved. But it was a different story in Montevideo and Paynesville.

A total of 58 districts had levies on the ballot on Tuesday, and 41 had at least one question approved, said Greg Abbott, a spokesman for the Minnesota School Boards Association.

Abbott tracks operating levy and bond issue referendums each year. Three of five bonding requests passed on Tuesday, and some smaller capital requests passed. Several districts will be taking bond issues to their voters in December.

School districts generally ask for operating levies to help maintain programs. Most districts have operating levies, because state school funding has not kept up with rising costs for some time. The only way schools can raise their property taxes is to get permission from their voters.

Montevideo asked to revoke a $506 levy and replace it with $975 per pupil. That lost, 874 to 913.

Paynesville Area asked its voters to increase its existing levy from $415 to $615 per pupil for two years and to increase it another $200 three years from now. That failed 558 to 719.

Montevideo and Paynesville superintendents said their districts will look different a year from now without the additional funding the levies would have brought in.

The Montevideo School Board will begin discussing the timetable for next year's budget at its meeting on Monday, said Superintendent Luther Heller. Budget cuts are sure to be a part of that process, he added.

"We're very definitely going to see some things that look different moving forward. ... We can't do everything with less money," he said. The district's current operating levy will be in effect for another three years.

The day after the election, Heller said, he spoke with some Montevideo teachers. "They're naturally disappointed, but they're going to rise to the occasion," he said. "As a district, we do remain committed to providing the best educational opportunities for our kids, and we'll continue to do that, regardless of the outcome of an election."

Heller said he didn't hear people in the community talking about the referendum before Tuesday. "We felt it would be a close vote, and it was a close vote," he said. "I definitely think (the economy) was a part of it."

Paynesville Superintendent Todd Burlingame said he believes the economy played a role in the defeat of his district's levy, too. "People are getting laid off; nobody's seeing any raises," he said.

The community was quiet before the election. "I think people had their minds made up," he added.

Paynesville is fortunate to have a general fund balance to draw from, and its existing operating levy will be in place until 2013, Burlingame said. But losing the referendum vote will still affect the district.

"We'll have to come up with a new game plan by January," he said.

"I'm not mad at the 719 people that voted no; I know where they're coming from," Burlingame said. "We're going to keep our heads up, and we'll get through."

Abbott said the operating levies do help school districts, but when they fail in some districts, it can create inequities between districts. The state constitution requires that all children in the state be provided an adequate education, he added.

"I don't think there's anyone who gets elected to school board that says I want to run so I can cut programs and raise class sizes," Abbott said. "It's not what they want to do."

The 71 percent approval rate doesn't help the districts whose levies failed, he said.

"Something's got to give," he said. "We shouldn't be basing education for kids based on what loose change is in the state's coffers."

The superintendents whose levies failed agreed.

When 92 percent of the state's school districts have operating levies, "it's not a local problem," Heller said.

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Linda Vanderwerf

I cover education issues for the West Central Tribune and have worked for the paper since 1995. I have worked in journalism since 1981.

Follow me on Twitter: @lindavanderwerf

(320) 214-4340
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