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Willmar School Board making levy decisions, seeking input from the public

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News Willmar, 56201
West Central Tribune
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Willmar Minnesota 2208 Trott Ave. SW / P.O. Box 839 56201

WILLMAR -- The Willmar School District will definitely ask voters this fall to replace a $498.49-per-pupil operating levy that expires at the end of the year.

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What's not clear yet is if the School Board will ask voters for more money.

Board members said they hope to hear from the public about the levy in the next few weeks so that they can make final decisions at their Aug. 8 meeting.

The board discussed the Nov. 8 levy vote at its Monday meeting. Superintendent Jerry Kjergaard asked the board to try to reach a consensus on some details so that he can have the proper resolutions written for the August meeting.

Kjergaard listed the decisions to be made -- one ballot question or two; a levy term that could be 10 years or shorter; one polling place or multiple ones.

Board members were clear about having one ballot question that will ask people for a direct replacement of the $498.49 levy. They also decided to ask for the levy for 10 years.

If the levy is not replaced, the district could face more than $3 million in budget cuts next year, Kjergaard said.

"We need it in order to get our state maximum (aid)," said board member Linda Mathiasen.

The district has another $201.51-per-pupil levy approved in 2008, bringing the total operating levy each year to $700 per pupil. Districts that levy at least $700 receive the maximum amount of additional state aid available.

The state sets the aid funding schools receive and decides how much local property taxes may be levied. An operating levy is the only way districts can raise more money for school operations.

A single ballot question in November 2010 asked voters to replace the levy and increase it by $400. That was turned down. The board decided right away to go back to the voters this year because of the importance of maintaining the current level of funding.

If they ask for more money this year, it will be in a separate ballot question that will be contingent on the $498.49 levy passing.

Board members have not decided yet if they want to ask for more or how much they would seek.

Kjergaard said he'd have the resolution written so that board members will be able to add a second question if they want.

Board members discussed having polling places in all four communities in the district, but scaled that back to one polling place, at the Willmar Education and Arts Center in Willmar.

Kjergaard said all registered voters in the district will receive a postcard telling them where they can vote.

One of the uncertainties in deciding on a second question is the district's inability to promise that additional money could bring back programs that have been cut.

The state shutdown makes it difficult to answer any questions about future cuts, because no one knows what a final budget agreement will be, said Business and Finance Director Pam Harrington.

In the past legislative session, the Legislature talked about doing away with integration funding. That is on hold, along with most other things during the shutdown. If integration funding is lost, Willmar would lose $600,000 from its general fund budget, she said.

"We can't promise any add-backs," said board member Eric Roberts.

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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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