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Willmar, three other districts seeking operating levies Tuesday

WILLMAR -- Voters in the Willmar School District will decide Tuesday whether to approve an operating levy of $400 per pupil for the next 10 years.

In the operating levy vote Tuesday, the district proposes revoking a levy of $498.49 per pupil unit and replacing it with an $898.49 levy.

If the new levy is approved, school property taxes would increase about $10 a month for each $100,000 in property value on residential and business property in the district.

The current levy raises about $2.4 million a year, while the proposed levy would raise about $4.2 million a year. A separate $201.51 levy adopted in 2008 raises $930,000 a year.

The $498.49 levy will expire in another year. If the levy is not approved this year, the district is likely to try again next year.

The additional money from the new levy would be used to help restore some programs that have been cut in recent years and to help contribute to the district's long-term stability.

Since 2001, the state has provided no funding increases in some years and small increases in other years. However, inflation has continued to affect expenses, and there has been no letup in the mandates that state and federal governments place on public schools.

The combination of stagnant revenue and growing expenses has contributed to spending cuts and increased fees in many Minnesota school districts.

With a projected state budget deficit of nearly $6 billion, school officials have said they do not expect to receive additional state funding in the near future.

A majority of Minnesota school districts have operating levies, and 79 districts are asking voters to approve new levies or continue existing ones to shore up their budgets.

In the past, such levies were called excess levies, and they were used for new programs. Now, school districts use the levies to maintain school programs and to keep a lid on rising class sizes.

The Willmar district has cut $6.5 million from its $40 million operating budget since 2005, including about $4 million in the past two years. Its cost-cutting efforts have included closing several smaller buildings, raising fees and laying off teachers and other staff.

Operating levies do not apply to cabins and other seasonal recreational property.

On agricultural property, an operating levy applies only to the house, garage and one acre of land.

Three other area communities will be deciding on operating levies on Tuesday, too.

In Belgrade-Brooten-Elrosa, voters will be asked to revoke an existing levy and replace it with the same amount, $837.76, for another 10 years.

In Kerkhoven-Murdock-Sunburg, voters will decide whether to approve a new $200 operating levy, to be added to an existing levy of $600 per pupil.

In Yellow Medicine East, voters will decide whether to add a new $401.19 levy to an existing $1,014.85 levy.

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