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Paynesville Schools to ask for incremental levy increase

PAYNESVILLE -- Paynesville Area Schools will ask voters in November to approve a levy proposal that takes the recent economic conditions into consideration.

Last week, the Paynesville School Board approved a levy plan that will ask voters to increase the district levy by $200 per student for the first two years of a 10-year plan and then increase it an additional $200 for the proposal's remaining seven years.

Superintendent Todd Burlingame said the School Board finalized the levy proposal's details for a Nov. 3 referendum during the March 24 board meeting. Earlier in the month, the board decided the district needs to revoke its $415-per-student operating levy and introduce a new one.

"We realize that the economy is kind of in the dumps right now, and people are losing jobs," Burlingame said. "And we're telling people we understand, and, of course, we're in the same boat they are."

The board chose one of three levy options the district administration provided during the March 24 meeting. Burlingame said the School Board decided to propose a 10-year plan that would increase the levy in increments, starting with an increase to $615 per student for the first two years. For years 3 through 10, Burlingame said, the district would increase the levy to $815 per student, a rate which is less than the $850-per-student levy average among state school districts.

The district will make about $219,000 in revenue each year for the first increase, Burlingame said, and then about $438,000 annually after the second $200-per-student increase.

In terms of tax impact, Burlingame said a home valued at $150,000 would undergo a $61 tax increase for the years of the first increment. The same home, he said, would garner a $130 increase for the years of the second increment.

This style of levy is a little abnormal, Burlingame said, indicating he had never heard of its kind until recent board discussion about a new levy. However, the incremental levy idea has been successful for a few Minnesota districts in recent years, he said.

Burlingame said the district wanted to propose a levy this year to proactively approach Paynesville's financial troubles. He said the board had discussed plans for a new levy about a year ago because the district's current levy expires in 2013.

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 school year with a $352,000 budget deficit and a $600,000 budget deficit for 2009-10 is expected.

In a previous interview, Burlingame said the district already plans to cut between $50,000 and $75,000 from the 2009-10 budget because Paynesville Area Schools is anticipating little, if any, increase in state funding.

"We spend five years building up a fund balance, and it's gone in like two years. It's just not fair," Burlingame said. "But it doesn't take long for that fund balance to be gone."

Burlingame said the district has begun preparations for its many upcoming informational meetings with community groups. He said the district plans to explain the general consequences of the levy, but he will not prepare a "cut list" that explains what programs or services the district will lose if the levy fails to win approval.

"I'm not a big fan of (cut lists)," Burlingame said, indicating that credibility is lost if the district doesn't honor the cut list. " ... Our job is to communicate this very well."

Overall, Burlingame said the district wants families to know it needs the levy to maintain Paynesville's programs and services, not add new ones to the budget.

"We wish the economy didn't tank like it did," Burlingame said. " ... But there's only one way to generate revenue and that's by going to the people and asking to support a (levy)."