Weather Forecast


Paynesville School District's general fund has plummeted in recent school years as enrollment declines

PAYNESVILLE -- Paynesville Area Schools will pursue a levy referendum this fall to combat its loss in state funding related to district enrollment.

Superintendent Todd Burlingame said Wednesday the Paynesville School Board approved of conducting a referendum this fall, but did not finalize any of the details during the board's Tuesday meeting.

Burlingame said the district has talked about proposing a levy since last year and opted not to offer one during the November general election with all of its ballot questions. "Well, we had no idea that the economy was going to hit the tank."

"Will things look better by this fall? I sure hope so," Burlingame said. "It may take longer than that, but we've made a commitment to at least go out and give it our best go this fall."

The School Board opted to table a decision about the referendum's details because the district administration proposed three options for a new operating levy proposal, Burlingame said.

All three options would require revocation of the district's existing $415-per-student levy that was passed in 2002, Burlingame said. But each option differs in its pay schedule for taxpayers over the 10-year levy period.

The first option, Burlingame said, would immediately increase the levy to $815-per-student in 2010 and keep it there for the remaining nine years.

The district's second option is a little trickier, Burlingame said. Starting in 2010, he said, the district would incrementally increase the existing levy rate by $100 until the fifth year of the 10-year proposal. So, the first year's levy would be at $515 per student, 2011's at $615, 2012's at $715 and 2013's at $815. After the fourth year, Burlingame said, the levy would stay at $815 per student until its 2020 expiration.

The third option would be similar to the second, Burlingame said, but with less variation in the levy rate. For the first two years, he said, the levy rate would be $615 per student. From years 3 through 10, the levy would jump to the $815 levy rate.

Burlingame said the administration provided the uncommon second and third options with its incremental increases because they thought it might fare better with voters who are struggling in the economy or enduring job layoffs.

Based on the district's recent audit, Burlingame said Paynesville Area Schools is sitting on a general fund of $1.116 million. But the district will finish the 2008-09 year with a $352,000 budget deficit and a $600,000 budget deficit for 2009-10 is expected.

"That fund balance is going pretty quick," Burlingame said.

"We'd like to get this in place so we can continue to have our current offerings because if we don't get it in place, we're just like everyone else: We're going to be cutting."

The district already plans to cut between $50,000 and $75,000 from the 2009-10 budget, Burlingame said, because Paynesville Area Schools is anticipating little, if any, increase in state funding. That likelihood, he said, practically requires the school district and other neighboring districts to ask their voters for more money.

"Due to that fact that we have been underfunded, or not funded appropriately, I think we're just being forced into going out and asking to increase the (levy)," Burlingame said. "And it's not just Paynesville. It's everywhere."

Burlingame said the district hopes to have finalized levy details by its March 24 meeting. Meanwhile, he said, the district and School Board members will be out talking to the community, trying to get local feedback about which option could have the best odds for passing in a referendum this fall.