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MACCRAY seeks $500 levy for school operations

CLARA CITY -- Voters in the MACCRAY School District will decide on Nov. 4 if they will contribute another $500 per pupil toward the operations of the district.

A year after voters approved a two-part operating levy question, the district is asking for another one to deal with ongoing financial problems related to declining enrollment and inadequate state aid.

The district switched to a four-day school week to save money on energy and transportation costs. The School Board has adopted budget cuts, including closing a building, in the past two years.

A vote in favor of the levy will raise about $372,000 a year for 10 years to help pay for district operations. The district has an annual budget of about $7 million.

Without the additional funding, the district could see fewer electives in its high school and all grades could have larger class sizes.

Superintendent Greg Schmidt presented some basic information about the levy at an informational meeting this week in Clara City. Two district residents attended, along with board member Carol Thomton.

The district already has several levies with a total of $1,061 per student. A small portion of that is dedicated to capital improvements; the rest is used for the day-to-day operations of the district.

The new levy would add $136 a year to the property tax bill on property worth $75,000. A property worth $150,000 would see a $272 a year increase. Agricultural landowners pay the tax on the value of their house, garage and one acre of land.

Funding shortfalls still exist, because state and federal aid does not pay the entire cost of education. According to information from the school district, enrollment has been shrinking, falling from 986 students in 1999-2000 to 708 students this school year.

State aid is based on the number of students, so it decreases as the number of students goes down. However, many of the costs of the district do not decrease, including transportation and utilities.

According to information distributed at the levy meeting, when inflation is considered, state aid has decreased 13 percent since 2003.

The district cut $750,000 from the budget before the 2007-08 school year and another $250,000 before this school year.

"Passing this is not going to mean we will have money to burn," Thomton said. "It means we won't have to cut."

"You've made a lot of cuts," said District resident Alan Petersen. "I think the referendum has to pass, but there's some serious cuts that could be made."

Whether it's turning off lights when leaving a room or finding ways to save miles on bus routes, "we're always looking for ways to save money," Schmidt said.

The four-day week is expected to save $85,000 to $100,000, he said. Much of that will be in transportation costs, the rest in utilities and reduced costs for substitute teachers.

Petersen asked if people thought the levy would pass.

"If the economy were better, I think it would pass," said district resident Marie Jansen said. "Now, I don't know."

Schmidt said he was concerned that people on fixed incomes would find it difficult to vote for the levy.

Petersen said he thought of voting for the levy as "like planting a tree" that would show benefits in the years to come.