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Big school levy push to come after Labor Day


WILLMAR -- A committee of citizens is forming to support the Willmar School District levy referendum on the Nov. 2 general election ballot.

Committee members will be working this month to settle on a formal name and to prepare for a campaign that will begin in earnest after Labor Day, said organizer Michele Vogel. She served on the marketing committee for the district's 2008 referendum.

The district is asking voters to repeal a local levy that provides $498.49 per pupil unit and replace it with a levy of $898.49 per pupil unit.

The existing levy will not be revoked unless the new levy is approved. The existing levy is set to expire in a year.

School officials have said they hope the higher local levy would allow them to avoid making budget cuts for a couple years. However, the state budget deficit and possible funding cuts could affect those plans. The district has cut more than $6 million from its budgets since 2005.

There's an effort to get parents of younger students involved in the effort, Vogel said in an interview this week.

"I think a lot of the decisions that happen now are going to really affect their children over the next 10 years," she said. "I'm passionate about making sure my children have a good educational experience."

Vogel said she and other parents are concerned about increasing class sizes and about cutbacks that affect classrooms. Other districts in the area face similar challenges.

The committee plans to have a phone bank to encourage people to support the referendum, Vogel said. The group will have a speaking committee to reach out to service clubs and other community organizations. A series of neighborhood coffee groups may be part of the effort, too, she said.

Vogel contacted the state Department of Education to ask what school employees are able to do to be involved. She found that school board members and employees can campaign for a referendum as long as they do it on their own time and don't use school equipment or supplies to do so.

"There's a lot of very positive ways teachers can get involved, and we look forward to getting them engaged in the process," she said.

The committee is also making plans to reach out to the community's minority populations, Vogel said. The Somali and Latino communities will have representatives on the group's steering committee.

People who are interested in getting involved in the early planning stages for the committee may contact her at or attend the next meeting at noon Wednesday at the North American State Bank.

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