After two years of planning and gathering community input, months of discussions regarding complex changes in state legislation, the Independent School District 834 Board has finalized its unanimous request to voters to renew and increase our expiring levy on Nov. 5.
The final request seeks to renew the existing $11 million levy and increase it by $5.2 million, which is a five percent increase to the district’s budget. This request comes more than 10 years after district residents last increased financial support for schools beyond the rate of inflation.
If the levy renewal is approved, the tax impact on the typical district home with a $250,000 value will be an increase of $14 per month — that’s 10 percent less than we originally anticipated due to new state funding tools that enable us to ask for what we need at a lower cost to residents.
If approved, levy funds will support students and classrooms by addressing three key issues. First, the funds provide financial stability, support current programs and avoid more budget cuts.
Second, levy approval supports our Bridge to Excellence Plan which recreates how students learn and better prepares them for the future.
Third, the district will use levy funds to increase school safety and security by adding secured school entrances and quick response systems and expanding anti-bullying and mental health initiatives.
If the levy fails, the school board has already approved 105 specific budget reductions that would occur. They include raising class sizes, implementing a four-day school week, reducing band/orchestra/vocal music, and restructuring or closing a school. A summary of the cut list is available online, www.stillwaterschools.org/levy2013.
I’ve heard some residents question if these cuts would be implemented. The reality is the school board has no choice — without a new levy, reductions would be made. Board members have already approved the list and stand committed to implementing all items on the list if the levy is not renewed. Several of these cuts would also impact students in parochial and charter schools within our district boundaries.
We’ve worked hard to provide a fiscally conservative and thoughtful levy proposal. We listened to our community, and based on what we learned from our 2011 levy attempt we’ve made several changes to our request. They include
- One ballot question, not three;
- Lower tax impact on district property taxpayers;
- Clear plan (created by our community) of how new money would be invested;
- Complete list of budget cuts that would be made if levy is not approved, and
- More time to share, respond to concerns, and answer questions
We also have carefully reviewed the two new financing tools provided by the state and elected to use the one providing the best value for our taxpayers.
This isn’t the same levy proposal of two years ago. We’re not the same district. We’ve made significant changes in the way we do business — becoming more efficient, focused and responsive to the needs of our community. We’ve made significant efforts to increase transparency and build trust with our community. We’ve reduced administrative oversight, and refocused our organization on teaching and learning. Our ultimate goal is to change the “what” of teaching and the “how” of learning to ensure our children are prepared for the world they will live in. The focus of this levy renewal and increase it to continue to support our students, schools and classrooms.
Every resident of our school district, whether they have children in our schools or not, is affected by passage or failure proposed levy renewal. Schools are an integral part of our community, and the quality of schools have significant social and economic impacts for all of us. This is a critical time for our schools. Please feel free to send us your questions and concerns at firstname.lastname@example.org. I hope you will take time in the coming weeks and months to become informed about our November levy request.
Superintendent Corey Lunn can be contacted via email at email@example.com or by phone at 651-351-8301. Questions can also be sent by mail to Superintendent, Stillwater Area Public Schools, 1875 South Greeley St., Stillwater, MN, 55082. Register for Stillwater Area Public Schools E-News at www.stillwater.k12.mn.us/subscribe.