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Willmar, Minn., School District turns its attention to what it wants to preserve with levy

The Willmar School District has developed a list of things that will be preserved if a Nov. 8 levy passes instead of a list of programs that might be cut if it fails. Voters in the referendum will be asked to renew a $498.49-per-pupil operating levy that is about to expire after 10 years. Renewing the levy will not cause an increase in school property taxes.

Superintendent Jerry Kjergaard distributed his list of programs to maintain at Monday's School Board meeting.

The district will operate one polling place from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Nov. 8 at the Willmar Education and Arts Center.

Kjergaard's list includes:

- Continuing to provide a minimum of 1,000 hours of instruction at the kindergarten level. The current state requirement is 425 hours. The state requires half-time kindergarten, but Willmar offers all-day, everyday kindergarten for all students.

- Keeping kindergarten and elementary class sizes at reasonable levels. In the last school year, kindergarten class size averaged 21.4 students per teacher. Average class size in grades K-5 was 23.4 students.

- Continue offering the same depth of academic opportunities for students at Willmar Senior High. Last year, more than 300 students participated in Advanced Placement classes.

- Continued support of Minnesota State High School League-sanctioned activities for Middle School and Senior High students. "It's a significant part of a kid's life," he said, and students who participate in competitive activities tend to do well in school, too.

- Maintain high-quality offerings in fine arts to a broad range of students in the district. Kjergaard said classes in music and the arts are also important for students and provide many benefits.

In developing a list, he preferred to focus on what he wants the district to be able to do in the future, Kjergaard said.

Preparing a list of possible cuts would be difficult, he said, and he didn't want to do it unless he was forced to do so.

If the levy fails, "there's a potential for reducing $3.3 million," he said. "The list would be overwhelming."

The district asked voters last year to renew the levy before it expired and to add another $400 to it. Voters in that referendum rejected the levy renewal. The School Board discussed asking for additional funding this year, too, but board members decided to seek a simple renewal, hoping that it would have a better chance of passing.

The district plans to send two informational fliers to district residents before the election, Kjergaard said.

The School Board voted last summer to hire board member Linda Mathiasen, who has a public relations and marketing company, to prepare informational literature about the referendum.

"We're trying to make sure we have the right information for people," Kjergaard said.

Kjergaard asked board members to record videos to talk about how they feel about the levy. They did something similar last year. The videos were available on the district's website and on YouTube, and Kjergaard said he got many positive comments about them.

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

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