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Board plans for levy vote

By Staff | Jun 29, 2009

Members of the Blue Earth Area School Board will be looking for a few good people if it decides to put an excess operating levy referendum on the ballot this November.

“We need a list of people who would be strong advocates for the district. If each board member could get three, we’d have a committee of 21,” says Superintendent Dale Brandsoy.

This is the final year of a five-year levy that will generate nearly $930,000 in revenue. Of that amount, $480,000 will come from the state.

Despite making cuts totaling nearly $400,000 for next year, district officials will need to dip into $3.8 million of reserves to avoid further reductions of $436,000.

Brandsoy says a timetable will need to be met if a referendum is going to be put to a vote.

The board will need to decide no later than August, he says, because a resolution must be passed by Sept. 11.

Declining enrollment,less interest earnings and lack of increased state funding have put a strain on the district’s budget. In addition, costs out of the district’s control — such as heating, insurance and fuel — have gone up significantly.

“The referendum has kept our books balanced,” says Brandsoy. “Without it we’d be struggling. It has kept our reserves up.”

Board members will have to decide whether the referendum be for five years or 10.

The superintendent has suggested it should stay at five years and the $650 per pupil amount not increased.

“With the economy of the area and state, it’s a difficult time to raise it,” Brandsoy says.

The deferment of state aid also is expected to adversely affect the district for the next year and possibly two.

BEA will receive 73 percent of its state funds next year and the remainder the following year. The percentage was changed from the current 90-10 percent ratio.

“That generates a lot of revenue for the state. We’re just going to have to borrow money or use reserves for cash flow,” Brandsoy says. “It’s going to put a lot of districts in real trouble.”

Board member Terry Cahill favors a five-year term levy because he doesn’t want future boards tied to a referendum it may not agree with.

The district will hire Springsted Inc. to gather data on the referendum process and help with a campaign. The education consultant assisted BEA five years ago.

Brandsoy says Springsted plans to post information on the district’s website regarding the referendum.

In other business, the “unweighted” grading system for college-level courses taken by Postsecondary Enrollment Options students will remain the same.

At the May meeting, two students asked the board to change a policy that does not “weigh” grades PSEO students earned at area colleges.

They say college-level courses offered by the district are “weighted” and over time students taking the Advanced Placement and Challenge classes can surpass a PSEO student in class rank and grade point average (GPA).

The students also told the board they felt there was lack of honor roll recognition given to PSEO students.

Brandsoy says state education officials told him the district can have “weighted” grades for their courses because they can determine their content and how rigorous they are, but can’t for those offered at colleges.

“We have no control on what happens in those college classes. That’s what it gets to be an issue of,” Brandsoy says.

Board member Vickie Hanson says several recent college graduates she has spoken to told her they felt the high school courses were tougher than the entry-level college classes.

Brandsoy says PSEO students will be recognized at the academic banquet and on the honor roll.

The district also will change the high school student handbook to address “weighted” grades. Student class registration packets will provide additional information on “weighted” grades and list which classes are weighted.