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MACCRAY to ask voters to support levy hike

Kindergarten instructor Becky Haas, left, helps students Evan Laumb, center, and Cailin Yoose in their MACCRAY East elementary school classroom in Raymond. District voters will go to the polls Nov. 3 to vote on an operating levy. A decline in the number of students projected to enter kindergarten in the district next year is expected to result in a reduction in state aid. Tribune photo by Tom Cherveny

MAYNARD -- Next spring the MACCRAY School District will say farewell to 79 graduating seniors and in the autumn, welcome 37 new kindergarten students.

In the process, it will also be saying goodbye to nearly $250,000 in state aid, the difference being the aid loss due to a projected decline in overall enrollment.

"That's the biggest issue for us right now, that we have a $250,000 deficit facing us right off the bat,'' said Superintendent Greg Schmidt to a sparse gathering Tuesday evening in the MACCRAY West Elementary in Maynard.

Schmidt is holding similar conversations around the district to explain the request for an operating levy increase. Voters will decide Nov. 3 whether to increase the per-pupil levy by $600 to $1,100.03 per pupil for the next 10 years.

If approved, the increased levy would raise $419,000 annually for the district.

The funds are needed to maintain basic operations, according to Schmidt.

"I think if the (levy) doesn't pass, there will be a lot of difficult decisions,'' said Schmidt during a discussion on cuts in Maynard.

He cited shrinking enrollments and declining state aid, this year's withholding of a larger share of state aid, inflation and unfunded mandates as among the many challenges.

The district's costs for special education services exceed reimbursements by $527,000 a year, he said.

It's all taking a toll.

School board members ordered $750,000 in reductions during the 2007-08 school year and had to follow that up with $300,000 in cuts in each of the two successive years.

The cuts to teachers and others with direct student contact have been felt, according to those attending the meeting. They raised the possibility of cuts to administrative positions.

The superintendent said the district has eliminated full-time curriculum, bookkeeper and custodian positions, and reduced the community education and activity director positions.

Loads of duties have been shifted. Lacking a school nurse, the superintendent is among those who answer to the need.

The school board is not willing to share superintendent services at this time, Schmidt said.

Cuts to the two principal positions do not offer the financial savings some might expect. Were their positions or hours to be cut, the principals would keep their present salaries and displace younger, and lower-cost, classroom teachers, Schmidt explained.

Those attending the Maynard hearing said they don't want to see the MACCRAY West Elementary School in the community closed. "If you're a young family, would you move here?'' said Mayor Richard Groothuis in reference to what it would mean.

Others noted that the district would suffer too. They warned that some Maynard area residents would choose between sending their children to the MACCRAY East Elementary in Raymond, 17 to 18 miles away, or to Granite Falls (12 miles), Montevideo (15 miles) or Prinsburg (15 miles).

Groothuis said he supports the levy increase for reasons beyond keeping the elementary school open in the community. Citing the importance of education, the mayor said it is now his turn to support the district just as others without children in school had done when his children attended.

Tom Cherveny

Tom Cherveny is a regional and outdoor reporter with the West Central Tribune in Willmar, MN.

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