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Voters say 'yes' to levy during Litchfield School District referendum

LITCHFIELD -- Litchfield Public Schools will introduce a new operating levy in 2010 after local voters favored the district's call for help in Tuesday's referendum.

Superintendent Bill Wold said the referendum passed 2,028 votes to 1,174.

"It was a big victory," Wold said. "We had a good feel for it. People were talking about it. People were saying positive things. But you never know.

"This is very gratifying that we had this many 'yes' voters."

District voters approved a seven-year, $600-per-student operating levy. The current $300-per-student levy will be revoked at the end of the year. A homeowner whose property is valued at $125,000 will see an increase of $78 a year, Wold said.

The levy amount requested Tuesday was the same increase voters rejected in November's election. At that time, 55 percent of the district's voters rejected the levy amount, which was designed to last for 10 years and generate up to $1.2 million annually for the district.

Wold said he thought explaining how the district struggled with unfunded mandates regarding special education helped voters realize the financial fight Litchfield Public Schools has faced in an effort to properly fund special education.

In recent years, the district has transferred money from its general fund to cover the special education debts not funded adequately by state and federal aid.

That led the district to fall into statutory operating debt -- meaning the district's unreserved general fund balance did not meet state standards -- when Litchfield Public Schools was saddled with an unexpected special education debt following the November levy rejection.

"Apparently (voters) listened to our story and made the decision, and we're fortunate that so many people voted 'yes,'" Wold said.

The assistance of the Citizens for Education action group was also "absolutely critical" in the referendum's approval, Wold said. The privately funded citizens group, which worked as a conduit for funneling citizen's questions to the district, also helped organize 13 neighborhood meetings informing voters about the proposed operating levy.

The Citizens for Education helped get the information out, Wold said, and clear up any misconceptions about the levy proposal.

"They just did a wonderful job with this whole campaign," Wold said.

Tuesday's voter approval comes just a few months after the district devised a statutory operating debt recovery plan, which was approved by the state Department of Education. Shortly thereafter, the department granted the district permission to propose a referendum this spring.

As part of the three-year recovery plan, the district approved cutting $328,750 from its budget for the remainder of the 2008-09 school year. It also scheduled to reduce $378,000 from the 2009-10 budget and $518,000 from the 2010-11 budget, much of which would affect district personnel, transportation and programming. Overall, the district's three-year plan for exiting statutory operating debt included more than $1.2 million in budget reductions.

The newly approved levy allows Litchfield Public Schools to omit the $518,000 in reductions scheduled for the 2010-11 school year. The new levy, which will hit the tax books in January, will provide enough money for the district to exit statutory operating debt without executing the 2010-11 budget reductions.