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School officials in Litch. to seek referendum OK from the Minn. education dept.

LITCHFIELD -- Litchfield Public Schools is wasting no time as it looks to get out of statutory operating debt.

The school district on Tuesday sent a referendum request to the state Department of Education Tuesday after the School Board approved a resolution during Monday's meeting. If approved, the referendum would take place May 19.

Superintendent Bill Wold said the district expects to receive a decision from state Education Commissioner Alice Seagren within a week.

Last month, the Education Department approved the district's three-year statutory operating debt recovery plan. It includes $1.2 million in budget cuts. Litchfield Public Schools fell into statutory operating debt in November after suffering an unexpected debt in special education. Voters also rejected a proposed levy during the November election.

"We're moving along," Wold said. "It seems we've been talking about the same thing and we will be for a while. But we're back in the referendum business."

Pending state approval, the district must notify the county auditor of the referendum 53 days prior to the polling date, Wold said. The district must decide on an operating levy amount, a number of authorized years and a ballot question before notifying the auditor.

Wold said he expects the School Board to hold two meetings to discuss the details of the referendum.

Earlier in the meeting, a projection from Lyle Hicks of Hicks Bus and Trucking Company -- the district's transportation provider -- and other budget details from the district office reinforced the board's decision on a levy referendum.

Wold said the district would lose a total of three bus routes --primarily within Litchfield's city limits -- by the 2010-11 school year if a levy is rejected. The School Board has already decided to cut $50,000 in transportation costs for 2009-10 and $100,000 for 2010-11.

According to Wold, other projected losses would include the elimination of middle school activities, a loss of five teachers and the introduction of a four-day week.

If granted state approval, Wold said informing voters about a new referendum will be different. Compared to November's attempt, Wold said the district can specify more about the repercussions of a rejected levy during informational meetings.

"During the last referendum (voters) were asking 'well, what's going to be cut?' And we said this was going to cut $300,000, so on and so forth; we haven't decided," Wold said. "Now we can be pretty clear in regard to what that looks like."