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No change now for ACGC operating levy

GROVE CITY - The Atwater-Cosmos-Grove City School Board had been prepared to seek voter approval this fall to revoke and replace its current operating levy that generates added revenue for educational programs.

But on Monday the board instead voted to delay that decision until next year.

The action was taken, in part, because district officials and board members realized they had one more year than they thought to collect revenue before the current $1,241-per-pupil levy expires in 2015. That's the same year a hefty bond on the high school building will no longer be an expense.

The unanimous board vote was also made because of new legislation that allows school boards to create a $300-per-pupil levy, or convert $300 of an existing voter-approved levy into a board-approved levy.

This spring legislators agreed to give school boards the authority to initiate an operating levy of up to $300 per pupil for five years without first getting voter approval from taxpayers. Until now, school districts were the only government jurisdiction required to get voter approval to raise taxes.

ACGC has had such levy questions succeed and fail in the past.

Earlier this year, the board had planned to seek voter approval this November to revoke the current levy and replace it with another in order to prevent a funding gap. The board figured that if the levy was defeated this fall, the board would try again in 2014.

But the board and district officials realized recently the current operating levy, which generates about $880,000 a year, will still be collected in 2015 and applied to the 2016 budget year.

That extra time, plus making the final $856,000 payment on the Junior/Senior High School in Grove City in 2014, gives the district some breathing room.

Also, knowing they now have the ability to initiate a $300 levy without the approval of voters gives the board even more options, said Chairman Joel Gratz.

But to qualify for the new levying power, school boards all across Minnesota had to take advantage of a small window of opportunity and approve resolutions this summer to obtain the new levying power.

Superintendent Sherri Broderius said she and about 70 other administrators attended a workshop in June to help understand the implications of the legislation before taking it to their school boards. ACGC also sought the advice of its financial consultant who recommended delaying action to seek another voter-approved levy.

The action to convert $300 of its $1,241-per-pupil levy, which goes into effect for taxes payable in 2014, does not change anything for taxpayers, said Gratz. "The levy is exactly the same. It's shifted into two buckets instead of one," he said.

The option does, however, give the board flexibility to determine if the district will need to seek voter approval next year for an operating levy that exceeds $300 per pupil.

In other action:

*Renee Nolting, executive director of United Way of West Central Minnesota, made a presentation about the goals of the program and said 1,728 people in the ACGC School District, including children and families, have benefited from eight different United Way programs. "It's about impacting lives," said Nolting. "We do touch communities."

Nolting said the regional nonprofit agency has set a $1 million fundraising goal for the coming year.

*The board approved changes to the student handbook that will prohibit students from taking electronic devices, including cell phones, into bathrooms in an attempt to curb negative social media communication. Broderius said they have discovered a "lot of nasty comments start in the middle of the school day," apparently when students use their phones while in the bathroom. Students will be required to temporarily forfeit their phones in exchange for a hall pass to the restrooms.

Carolyn Lange

A reporter for more than 30 years, Carolyn Lange covers regional news with the West Central Tribune.

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