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Seven area school districts holding levy votes Tuesday

An unidentified student works with a new iPad at the New London-Spicer middle and high school library. The district, seeking a $1.5 million levy for its increased tehnology needs, is one of seven area districts asking voters to approve levies this month. Tribune photo by Gary Miller

Seven school districts in the area will conduct referendums Tuesday asking voters to approve levies.

They join about one-third of Minnesota's school districts in seeking voter approval to raise or maintain funding for their budgets.

In the area, Willmar, Montevideo, BOLD, Dawson-Boyd, Redwood Valley and Benson districts are seeking levies to pay for school operations.

New London-Spicer is seeking a levy to improve technology capabilities in the district.

More than 90 percent of the districts in the state have operating levies on their books.

The operating levies are used to pay for day-to-day operating expenses that are not covered by state aid.

State aid to schools has not kept pace with inflation for the past two decades, and many school districts have turned to their local voters to help maintain programs. School districts are the only government entity in the state that must ask for voter permission to increase a tax levy.

The state provides additional aid for operating levies, one-third of the first $700 per pupil of levy revenue. Many school districts, including BOLD, Montevideo and Willmar, are at or trying to stay at the $700 level, so that they can maximize the available state aid.

Absentee ballots are available at the school district offices during office hours through the close of business Monday.

Information about each levy, including polling times and places is listed below. The polling places and times vary with the district.

n Willmar -- Willmar's voters have been asked to approve a nine-year renewal of a $498.49-per-pupil levy. The levy expires at the end of the year.

The district has an existing levy of $201.51 per pupil, and would have a total of $700 if the levy passes Tuesday. The renewed levy would raise about $2.23 million.

School officials have said the renewed levy would be used to maintain programs like all-day, everyday kindergarten and electives and advanced classes at the high school.

If the levy is not approved, those programs could be in jeopardy.

Voting will be from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday at the Willmar Education and Arts Center.

n New London-Spicer -- The district is asking voters to approve a levy to raise $1.5 million over three years to pay for technology improvements in the district.

The levy would help purchase equipment for classrooms and provide training for staff to use it effectively in their classrooms. It would also help improve computer labs and give the school district a stronger network in the building.

Voting will be from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday in the high school gymnasium in New London.

n Montevideo -- Voters will be asked two questions. The first will revoke an existing $505-per-pupil levy and replace it with a $700 levy. The current levy would expire after next year.

The district has a second question asking for an additional $200 per pupil. The second question can pass only if the first one does.

If the levies fail to pass, the district won't lose any funding but won't gain any either, according to Superintendent Luther Heller. If both questions are passed, the district stands to gain about $610,000 in new money.

Voting will be at the National Guard Armory in Montevideo. Polls are open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday.

n Redwood Valley -- The district is asking to renew a $500-per-pupil levy that is due to expire. It would last 10 years. A second question seeks another $400-per-pupil levy that would last 10 years. The second question is contingent on the first one passing.

If the first question fails, the district will lose $757,000 a year. If the second question passes, it will bring the district an additional $600,000.

"If either question fails, we will make reductions," said Redwood Valley Superintendent Rick Ellingworth. Reductions could range from $250,000 to $1 million and would include staff reductions, larger class sizes and cuts in programs.

Voting will be at the Redwood Valley High School. Polls will be open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday.

n Dawson-Boyd -- The district is asking voter approval of a $990-per-pupil levy. It would be used to replace a $454.23-per-pupil levy that is expiring this year and a $302.32 levy that expires in three years.

The new $990 levy would represent an increase of $233.45 per pupil and would last for 10 years. It would generate an additional $283,292 in state aid and $256,178 in property taxes, according to Superintendent Brad Madsen.

If it fails to pass, the district would retain the $302.32 levy, which generates $100,800 in state aid and $63,940 in property taxes.

Voting will be at the Dawson city building and the Boyd municipal building. Polls will be open from 3 p.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday.

n Benson -- The district's current levy of $543 per pupil is expiring. The ballot asks voters to replace the levy with $650 per pupil with an inflation clause for four years.

The current levy generates $704,000 per year. The proposed levy would bring in $791,000 in the first year. It is the district's only operating levy.

"We will use the revenue from the levy to preserve current programs for students," said Superintendent Lee Westrum. "If the levy fails, we will have to make significant budget reductions."

Voting will be at the Benson Armory. Polls are open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday.

n BOLD -- Voters will be asked to renew and extend an existing $700-per-pupil levy for six years.

The funding makes "a significant difference in the district's ability to maintain quality educational programs, services and opportunities for children," according to Superintendent Tom Farrell.

If the current levy is not replaced, the district will have an annual revenue loss of $556,000.

Funding from the levy will be used to help maintain class sizes and current student programs, including all-day, everyday kindergarten. If the levy doesn't pass, significant budget reductions will begin in the spring of 2012.

Voting will be at the Bird Island City Hall, Olivia Public Library and Lake Lillian City Center. Polls are open from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday.

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