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NLS informational meeting on levy referendum unattended by public

NEW LONDON -- Just two weeks before proposing a referendum question to local voters, only New London-Spicer School Board members and district staff attended a Monday evening informational meeting about the proposed $200-per-student operational levy increase.

"You can look at in one of two ways," Superintendent Paul Carlson said about the meeting's attendance. "Either people feel well-enough informed to not attend ... or they feel going to an informational meeting is not worth the time. I'm hoping it's the first one."

Next mo-nth, the district will seek an operating levy of $597 per student. The district's existing levy, which equals $397 per student, expires in 2010. If voters do not pass the referendum, the district's operating levy will be zero in 2010.

Carlson said in the past two years, the district made $395,644 in budget cuts to maintain solid financial footing. If the referendum fails, Carlson said, the district anticipates an additional $400,000 in budget cuts.

"We're trying to be proactive by posing this question on Nov. 4," Carlson said. Had the district waited to propose the referendum in 2009, Carlson said, up to $1 million in cuts in one year may have needed to be made if the levy question failed.

If approved, the levy would be in effect from 2010 until 2017 and only used for the district's operational needs, Carlson said. The district's finances have declined in recent years due to enrollment and shrinking state funding. When enrollment declines, Carlson said, a district loses state funding for the number of students lost.

The proposal comes on the heels of a report about the district's recent financial struggles; NLS projects a fund balance of $269,642 by June 30, 2009. According to previous reports, that figure would not cover unexpected costs like emergency building maintenance.

Carlson said the district has received a few phone calls regarding levy question; most callers, he said, are inquiring about the levy amount and how students will benefit from the money. Carlson said local voters "want to be informed" and are "very knowledgeable about levies."

"Hopefully we'll have a better turnout for Friday's meeting," Carlson said.

A second informational meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. Friday at the high school and Oct. 28 at the Dethlef Center in Spicer.