Referendum’s first meeting held in Elmore
The first informational meeting on the upcoming referendum for an excess operating levy for the Blue Earth Area School District was held Tuesday, Sept. 24, at the Heartland Retreat Center in Elmore.
District superintendent Mandy Fletcher spoke to the gathering of 20-plus people who weathered the storm outside to attend the meeting. She outlined the process the School Board went through in determining the need to ask for the referendum.
“When I took over the superintendent’s job on July 1, it was not a surprise for me because the School Board has been discussing this issue for some time,” Fletcher said.
She then shared the biggest question she gets asked is, “Why do we need this increase in the operating levy?”
Fletcher then explained to the people in attendance the need for the increased funding.
“An operating levy helps you pay your day-to-day expenses,” Fletcher said. “The purpose of it is to help maintain our programs we currently have in place.”
She then outlined what those programs include.
“We have band, choir and orchestra,” she began. “And not a lot of schools our size are able to offer the opportunity to participate in orchestra.”
She then moved on to talk about some of the academic programs the district is able to offer.
“We offer 11 different College Now classes,” she explained. “These are classes which must be taught by someone having a Master’s degree in the subject, and the kids can get college credit for those classes.”
She then listed many other opportunities BEA offers, including classes in engineering, business, arts, agriculture, industrial arts, as well as a Business Professionals of America (BPA) club.
“The School Board has had a lot of discussion about this situation,” Fletcher explained. “And it was decided we wanted to maintain our programs, but we also had to look at how it would affect the individual taxpayer.”
The board took action in three different areas.
“First, if you have been reading the paper you will have seen the board approved $425,000 in cuts,” Fletcher said. “We also made some internal adjustments which resulted in larger class sizes but trimmed another $80,000 from the budget. Finally, the decision was made to generate more funds through an operating levy referendum.”
Fletcher reminded the audience the amount of money the district receives from the state is on a per pupil basis. The referendum will generate a little more than $900,000 because BEA has slighty more than 1,000 students.
“That amount, $900,000, represents about five percent of our annual budget, which is $16 million,” Fletcher commented.
Fletcher informed those in attendance about a link on the school website which allows property owners to find out exactly how the proposed referendum would affect their taxes.
“It is important to remember this is not an ag land tax but a tax based on a house, garage and one acre,” Fletcher said.
One person at the gathering shared she had gone to the school’s website and found it was very easy for her to determine what her tax bill would be.
Currently, residents of the district pay below average property tax compared to other districts in the area and in our athletic conference.
Michael Hoheisel, who is a director of public finance for Robert W. Baird and Company, was at the meeting and has worked with the School Board as it went through the process of making decisions on the referendum.
“Should the referendum pass, it would bring the Blue Earth Area School District up to average with where the other districts are,” Hoheisel said. “There are 27 schools which have referendums on the ballot in the state this fall and about a dozen of those are to increase the operating levy.”
Fletcher explained why district residents tax rates have been so low.
“We had a $650 per pupil levy which was on from 2009 to 2014. In 2014, our district had a very healthy $4 million general fund balance,” she said. “In June of 2020 it is projected the fund balance will be roughly $1.67 million.”
If the referendum passes the revenues will not come in until the 2020-21 school year.
“If it does not pass the cuts we will need to make will be greater than $1 million,” Fletcher added.
As the weather outside calmed down and the meeting was winding down, Fletcher offered one final comment.
“Everyone has to decide for themselves what they want to do,” Fletcher said. “We just want to provide them with the information they need to make their decision.”