NEW LONDON - Residents in the New London-Spicer School District are being asked for their advice on where to tighten up the budget and potentially expand revenues through a voter-approved operating levy.

The district has had budget deficits for the last two years and used money from the reserve fund to cover the shortage. But that fund balance has "been dwindling," said Superintendent Paul Carlson. "We can't keep the current spending."

Adjustments were made to the budget this year by reducing staff development and discretionary spending and nearly $200,000 has been cut for the 2019-2020 budget. It's anticipated NLS will experience budget deficits for each of the next five years totaling $2 million unless deeper cuts - or new revenue - are added to the mix, Carlson said.

To help the school board develop a plan for the future, about 6,500 surveys were sent to NLS residents at the end of April to gauge views on funding priorities and what programs they would be willing to see cut or reduced if an operating levy is not approved.

The surveys, which can be completed either online or in paper form, are due Wednesday. The board is scheduled to discuss the survey results at its meeting June 10 and discuss next steps in the budget process during a retreat July 12.

Carlson said state education funding hasn't kept up with inflation for the last decade, and as a result, about 60 percent of Minnesota school districts have voter-approved operating levies in place to fill the gap.

NLS currently does not have a voter-approved operating levy.

Carlson said new proposed state funding that would give a 2 percent increase in the next two years and provide additional money for special education will help the NLS budget.

But he said even with that increase in state funding, a combination of more cuts and more revenue is needed at NLS.

The survey will help determine residents' "tax tolerance" for an operating levy, he said.

If the survey results indicate a majority of people do not support an operating levy, then the board may not put the issue on the ballot.

If it appears there is public support, Carlson said the school board will need to be "realistic" about the size of levy that could be approved by voters. "We don't want to ask for something that won't pass," he said.

While Carlson is at the helm during the start of the discussion about a possible operating levy, he is retiring at the end of June and the issue will be picked up by Bill Adams, who takes over as NLS superintendent July 1.