Residents get levy math lesson

District officials outline proposed budget cuts if voters reject renewal in fall election

Independent School District 834 Superintendent Corey Lunn, standing, listens to a group of district residents attending a district listening session Tuesday evening at Oak-Land Junior High School in Lake Elmo. That meeting is the first of two session district officials are holding to hear what residents think of $11 million in proposed budget cuts being considered if an operating levy renewal fails this fall. (Gazette staff photo by Erik Sandin)

Independent School District 834 Superintendent Corey Lunn, standing, listens to a group of district residents attending a district listening session Tuesday evening at Oak-Land Junior High School in Lake Elmo. That meeting is the first of two session district officials are holding to hear what residents think of $11 million in proposed budget cuts being considered if an operating levy renewal fails this fall. (Gazette staff photo by Erik Sandin)

LAKE ELMO — Independent School District 834 officials gave district residents gathered at Oak-Land Junior High School Tuesday 11 million reasons why renewal this year of the district’s expiring operating levy is vital.
Voter rejection of the levy renewal would result in the school board cutting slightly more than $11 million from the district’s budget for 2014-2015, district officials said.

Although cuts developed by a 65-person committee would be across the board, the majority would affect students through larger class sizes, program reductions and reduced opportunities and support for struggling students, according to district officials.

“This is an area where we tried to protect students, but we can’t anymore,” said Assistant Superintendent Ray Queener.

With the school board poised to act on the lengthy list of budget cuts next month, Superintendent Corey Lunn told the approximately 50 residents in the Oak-Land auditorium that the district needs their input on the proposed reductions.

“You’re going to learn about partnerships. We cannot do it alone,” he said.
The Oak-Land meeting Tuesday night was the first of two meetings to explain the budget cuts to residents and get reactions and ideas. The second session is 6 to 8 p.m. Today at Stillwater Junior High School.

Lunn said resident input from both meetings would be provided to the school board at their meeting Thursday. The board plans a day-long March 2 workshop before voting on the budget cut list March 7, Lunn added. A decision on putting the operating levy renewal on the fall ballot comes in April, according to the superintendent.

“The state doesn’t require us to make a decision until August. But we want to be out front,” he said.

Lunn said ISD 834 is among the majority of state school districts that use operating levies to generate day-to-day funds.

“Ninety percent of school districts have operating levies in place,” he said.
In ISD 834, the expiring operating levy accounts for nearly 20 percent of the district’s revenue, according to a hand-out at Tuesday’s meeting. But the district also faces an additional $4 million to $6 million budget shortfall due to flat state funding, inflation and rising costs.

“Some items on this list may need to be acted on to make up this annual shortfall or to fund new strategic planning initiatives, even if a levy were to be renewed this fall,” according to the district.

Lunn said there was a positive resulting from the budget sessions.
“The silver lining to this process is looking at ways to do things differently,” he said.

Lunn said the district has self-funded insurance; is pursuing grants and outside funds; is looking at expanded shared services with cities and counties; has streamlined internal systems and processes; has shifted funds when possible to the classroom, and reorganized Central Services staff.
Before residents at the meeting broke up into small groups to discuss the suggested budget cuts, Queener asked them to consider three questions.

“What item on the list is the greatest concern to you? What things do you believe are missing from the list? What things should remain on the list,” he said.

And Lunn reminded residents the district is increasing efficiency, creating a sustainable budget and re-allocating resources to classrooms.

“We’re trying to do all of them. We’re just not asking for money,” he said.

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