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Deb McGraw, left, a teacher at Renville County West High School, is pictured in this undated photo during class. The school district is looking for voters' support as it looks to implement two new operating levies. Tribune photo

RCW looks to voters

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News Willmar,Minnesota 56201 http://www.wctrib.com/sites/default/files/styles/square_300/public/fieldimages/1/1130/011409-rcw-award-10.jpg?itok=etruKUKf
West Central Tribune
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RCW looks to voters
Willmar Minnesota 2208 Trott Ave. SW / P.O. Box 839 56201

RENVILLE -- A year ago, the voters in the Renville County West School District turned down a request to build a new K-12 school building.

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School Board members took that as a message that the district's residents wanted them to make do with what they had.

So, earlier this year, the board voted to close the elementary school in Sacred Heart and move all the district's educational programs into the school building in Renville.

Though some of the "new" parts of the building are more than 40 years old, the Renville building was the larger and younger of the two buildings the district still operated. A middle school in Danube closed several years ago.

This fall, the district is asking its voters to approve two new operating levies.

Question 1 would revoke two current operating levies and approve a new higher one that would last seven years, beginning with the 2010-2011 school year. Question 2 would authorize a three-year levy to help the district pay for improvements on the Renville building.

Nearly 50 people attended a public meeting on the levy this week at the Renville school. Superintendent Lance Bagstad explained the two questions and the district's need for the additional funding.

Question 1 would revoke two existing levies that total $1,209.97 per pupil and replace them with a new levy of $1,500 per student per year. If approved, the new levy would raise an additional $209,000 to help pay operating expenses for the district, which has a budget of about $6 million.

If it passes, Question 2 would be implemented only if Question 1 is approved. It would raise $300 per pupil each year for three years, about $223,000 a year.

The second levy would allow the district to make improvements to the heating and ventilation systems in the school and to make some roof repairs. The building needs plumbing and electrical work updates.

The district was able to repair two portions of the building roof with federal stimulus money last summer, Bagstad said.

A woman in the audience asked if there was a guarantee that the money would be used for building improvements. "That is what we're planning," Bagstad said.

The woman wanted to know if there was a plan for the money. If the question is approved, the money from the $300 levy will be set aside and "we will get a plan going," he said, with boilers and roofs at the top of the list.

The new operating levy would provide funding to help maintain the programs the district now offers, Bagstad said.

The district's declining enrollment in recent years has resulted in less state aid, because it is tied to student numbers, Bagstad said. State funding has not kept up with the cost of running a school district, he added.

Operating levies have helped RCW maintain cash flow and to implement programs that are popular with students and parents, he said.

"We have great programs in place for our kids, and I'm proud of it," Bagstad said.

If Question 1 doesn't pass, programs like all-day, everyday kindergarten and College Now could be in jeopardy, Bagstad said.

College Now allows senior high students to take college-level classes in Renville. In response to questions from parents in the audience, Bagstad said the district spends about $25,000 on the program, which has more than 20 students participating.

"I know for a fact it keeps some of our kids here instead of going (Post-Secondary Enrollment Options)," Bagstad said. Each high school students who leaves the district to attend college costs about $6,000 in lost state aid.

Two women in the audience said they didn't know how the district could afford to turn down the levy.

One mother said her daughter graduated from RCW with 21 college credits, a big help when it came to paying for college. "Don't be looking at where you can cut corners," she said. "This is not that much; it's really not."

Question 1 would increase property taxes on a $70,000 home $29 a year over the taxes paid in 2009. Question 2 would increase taxes another $75 for three years. On agricultural homesteads, the levy applies only to the house, garage and one acre of land.

The district's 2009 taxes were higher than normal because of a one-year levy to pay for a sprinkler system in the Renville school. The sprinkler system was ordered after a fire marshal inspection.

Bagstad has been conducting question-and-answer sessions in restaurants in the district. Upcoming sessions, each from 8 to 9 a.m., will be at the following places:

- Bart's Place, Renville, Tuesday

- Kathy's Place, Sacred Heart, Wednesday

- Main Street Café, Danube, Thursday

- Java Junction, Renville, Friday

Five districts seeking levy approval this fall

Voters in five area districts will decide school operating levy questions on Nov. 3.

Lac qui Parle Valley: Asking voters to renew an existing levy of $1,100 per pupil.

MACCRAY: Referendum would revoke $501 per pupil levy and pass a new one of $1,101 per pupil.

Montevideo: Asking for a $975 per pupil levy to replace one that is $406 per pupil.

Paynesville Area: Would increase levy by $200 for first two years and by another $200 for remaining years of levy.

Renville County West: $1,500 sought to replace $1,203 levy, asking for an additional $300 per pupil for three years for building maintenance.

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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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