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Editorial: Vote yes to support Willmar schools

Willmar School District voters Tuesday will consider whether to continue our current investment in this school district and the greater Willmar community.

It is not a vote to take lightly or ignore. The school district and the greater Willmar community need your help.

The district is asking voters to renew a current levy of $498.49 per pupil, which expires in December. A yes vote on this levy question will just continue the current levy already in place, which was originally approved in 2001.

Most importantly, approving this levy proposal will not increase school taxes on local property. In addition, agricultural land is only taxed on the value of one acre of land, the house and garage for school tax purposes. Finally, seasonal recreational property is not taxed as part of any operating levy.

The West Central Tribune encourages the district voters to vote yes on this proposed Willmar operating levy renewal.

This is the time to continue the greater Willmar community's wise investment in this school district.

This school district emerged nearly a decade ago from statutory operating debt and the School Board and successive district administrations have remained fiscally prudent, strategically focused and have made the tough decisions necessary to remain on course.

For example, the district has consolidated operations and closed two buildings to reduce costs.

The district has taken other steps to reduce costs: reducing program offerings, cutting teachers and staff, delaying and/or reducing textbook purchases and collaborating with the community to share programs and control spending.

The priorities of this operating levy are critical and strategically important.

According to district officials, the priorities include:

- Maintain a minimum of 1,000 hours of kindergarten instruction.

- Maintain reasonable all-day, every day kindergarten and elementary class sizes.

- Maintain the breadth and depth of academic opportunities for Senior High students.

- Maintain continued support of Middle School and High School competitive activities sanctioned by the Minnesota State High School League.

- Maintain quality offerings in fine arts to a broad range of students across the district.

These are fundamental education initiatives for this district and this community.

Two groups in the community are supporting the Willmar operating levy: a business group -- Willmar Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce -- and citizen group -- Education Matters.

The chamber noted that this levy does not increase taxes at this time and that it is important for the business community to have a healthy school district for employee recruiting purposes.

If the levy fails, the school district will face budget cuts that will negatively affect academic programs, class sizes and activities. The chamber believes this would be detrimental to employee recruiting of local businesses.

Education Matters volunteers are encouraging a yes vote. They believe it is an investment in the kids in school as well as keeping the Willmar community strong.

This group believes a yes vote on this levy question will "maintain and preserve the quality education of the Willmar Public School District."

Another smaller citizen's group -- Willmar-StudentsFirst -- has recommend a vote no on this levy issue. They believe the school district needs to embrace greater education reform and that the district's administration, teachers and staff can also find ways to operate without renewing the current levy.

This group has chosen their no on the levy stand to get the School Board and the community's attention. However, they have failed to fully consider the real impact upon the education needs of the children, local businesses or this community. In addition, some group members now say they are not against the levy, but just did not like decisions which the School Board has made.

The School Board listened to the voters following the rejection of the 2010 levy change proposals. This year the School Board only proposed continuing the current levy of $489.49 per student, which expires in December.

We believe that strong schools are an important asset in the greater Willmar community and have a positive impact upon economic development here and in Kandiyohi County.

On Nov. 8, district voters should vote yes on the Willmar Schools operating levy question to keep our strong investment in our school district and our community.