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Litchfield School District voters to decide three ballot questions Tuesday on levy, bonding

The Litchfield School District could see many changes if its voters approve an operating levy and two bond issue questions in a Nov. 5 referendum. The ballot questions propose to increase the district’s operating levy by $625 per pupil as well as allow the district to borrow $33 million over 20 years to pay for deferred maintenance projects, safety improvements and remodeling in the district’s three buildings. A third question would authorize $11.4 million in bonding for a new 8-lane swimming pool, remodeling the old pool to expand a fitness center and adding a soccer field.

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Litchfield High School is one of several schools in the Litchfield School District that will be affected by the upcoming referendum decision. Voters in the Litchfield School District will vote on three ballot questions Nov. 5 that propose to increase the district’s operating levy by $625 per pupil as well as allow the district to borrow $33 million over 20 years to pay for deferred maintenance projects, safety improvements and remodeling in the district’s three buildings. Erica Dischino / West Central Tribune

LITCHFIELD — Voters in the Litchfield School District will vote on three ballot questions Nov. 5.

In Question 1, voters will decide whether to increase the district’s operating levy by $625 per pupil to support educational programs and avoid future budget cuts.

The other two ballot issues relate to bonding.

Question 2 would allow the district to borrow $33 million over 20 years to pay for deferred maintenance projects, safety improvements and remodeling in the district’s three buildings.

The third question would allow the district to borrow another $11.4 million to build a new 8-lane swimming pool, remodel the old pool to expand a fitness center and add a soccer field.

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Superintendent Beckie Simenson said the district developed the three proposals in a year-long process that has involved more than 60 community meetings.

If Question 1 passes, it could add about $1 million to the district’s general fund each year for 10 years. “That will help us significantly,” and could forestall future budget cuts, Simenson said.

The district projects a $759,000 budget deficit in the 2019-20 budget. Without the additional levy, the district could face $1 million in budget cuts before the next year, Simenson said.

Litchfield’s current local operating levy is $724 per pupil, the highest amount school districts can levy without voter approval. The average per pupil local levy in the state is $1,297. If the new levy is approved, Litchfield’s per pupil local levy would be $1,349 per pupil.

Regarding the building projects, safety is a major concern in some of the district’s buildings. That’s particularly true at Lake Ripley Elementary, where the office is not near the main entrance. The district has security precautions in place, but “it just wasn’t designed to have a secure entrance,” she said.

Other proposed work includes remodeling the high school’s industrial tech area and other areas that are outdated. Simenson said the goal is to upgrade buildings and “prepare them for the future.”

Maintenance projects include a new roof at the elementary school, upgrades to heating and ventilation systems and improving traffic flow for parent drop-offs.

School districts receive state funding and can use some local tax money for building maintenance, but it’s rarely enough to keep up with needs, Simenson said. The total maintenance needs in the district approach $90 million.

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Working with a consultant, “we whittled down where we thought the tax tolerance for the district would be,” she said.

Question 3 can pass only if questions 1 and 2 are approved. It would provide for a new pool, soccer field and fitness facility. The current facilities are inadequate for the district’s needs, Simenson said. The new facilities would be available for public use.

The school district is working with the city in the hopes of creating an expanded recreation center at the site, too. A legislative bonding committee recently reviewed the project, and community leaders hope to receive state money or find other ways to finance the broader project, she said.

Early voting is available through Nov. 4 at the Meeker County Auditor’s Office in Litchfield. On Election Day, the district will operate one polling place, at St. Philip’s Church, 821 Fifth St. E., Litchfield.

Related Topics: EDUCATION
In 42 years in the newspaper industry, Linda Vanderwerf has worked at several daily newspapers in Minnesota, including the Mesabi Daily News, now called the Mesabi Tribune in Virginia. Previously, she worked for the Las Cruces Sun-News in New Mexico and the Rapid City Journal in the Black Hills of South Dakota. She has been a reporter at the West Central Tribune for nearly 27 years.

Vanderwerf can be reached at email: lvanderwerf@wctrib.com or phone 320-214-4340
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