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BEA voters to decide on referendum and a board member Tuesday

By Staff | Nov 3, 2019

This Tuesday, Nov. 5, is the day Blue Earth Area District residents will have the opportunity to vote on the proposed excess levy referendum for the school district. In addition, there is also an election for a member of the School Board.

Jeff Eckles is running unopposed for the seat previously held by Jeremy Coxworth, who resigned his position on the board on April 22, due to his expanding business. The election is for someone to fill out Coxworth’s term, which expires on Dec. 31, 2020.

Eckles was appointed to temporarily fill the position by the board until a special election could be held. He began serving on July 15.

Voting on the referendum and board member can be done by absentee ballot until 5 p.m. on Monday, Nov. 4, at the county auditor’s office or on Nov. 5 at the polls.

There will be five polling places for BEA district residents to vote. They are located in Blue Earth, Delavan, Elmore, Frost and Winnebago. The polls open at 4 p.m. and close at 8 p.m.

The official motion to place the operating levy question on the ballot was approved unanimously at the July 15 meeting. However, the School Board had been working towards holding a referendum for many months prior to the July meeting. The board had also been taking other steps to deal with the financial situation the district is facing.

A projected shortfall of between $900,000 and $1 million was reduced by over $425,000 when the board made cuts in staff during their April meeting. At the time Dr. Jerry Jensen was serving as the interim superintendent, a position he held from Jan. 1 through June 30.

The reductions made by the board included the elimination of four teaching positions which was accomplished by not replacing four teachers, two who were retiring and two who requested leave.

One bus route was also eliminated. In addition, the reduction resulted in the cutting of teachers on call, Minnesota Comprehensive Assessment proctors, tech coaches and cutting 2.4 paraprofessionals.

The final cut was to reduce one technology integrated position from .6 Full Time Equivalent (FTE) to .2 FTE.

At their meeting in June, Jensen informed the board the Minnesota State Legislature passed an education bill which was signed into law which featured a 2-percent increase to school districts’ per-student funding beginning the next fiscal year (2020). An additional 2-percent increase would also take place in fiscal year 2021.

It was also noted BEA’s general fund balance was estimated to be $2,408,456 as of June 30.

Mandy Fletcher officially took over as the BEA superintendent on July 1, and was well aware of the financial issues facing the district.

The board worked with Michael Hoheisel, a director of public finance for Robert W. Baird and Company, as it went through the process of making decisions on the referendum.

Ultimately the board settled on a proposed operating levy of $900 per pupil. The last operating levy had expired in 2014 and was $650 per pupil.

“The tax impact of the levy will fall on residential market value (RMV) property (a house, garage, and one acre),” superintendent Mandy Fletcher explained at the July School Board meeting. “It will not be on agricultural land or buildings.”

Next the board scheduled a series of information meetings to be held in five different cities around the district to provide an opportunity for district residents to learn more about the referendum and bring forth any questions they may have regarding the question on the November ballot.

The meetings were held in Frost, Elmore, Winnebago, Delavan and Blue Earth.

“An operating levy helps pay your day-to-day expenses,” Fletcher explained at the Elmore meeting. “The purpose of it is to help maintain our programs we currently have in place.”

Fletcher then outlined what these programs include.

“We have band, choir and orchestra,” she said. “And not a lot of schools our size are able to offer the opportunity to participate in orchestra.”

She also talked 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.”

Fletcher listed many other opportunities offered by BEA, including classes in engineering, business, arts, agriculture, industrial arts, as well as a Business Professionals of America (BPA) Club.

The board took action in three different areas.

“In addition to $425,000 in cuts, we also made some internal adjustments which resulted in larger class sizes but trimmed another $80,000 from the budget,” Fletcher commented. “Finally, the decision was made to generate more funds through an operating referendum.”

Fletcher reminded the Elmore audience the amount of money the district receives form the state is on a per pupil basis. The referendum will generate a little more than $900,000 because BEA has slightly more than 1,000 students.

“That amount, $900,000, represents about five percent of our annual budget, which is $16 million,” Fletcher said.

The district also put a link on the school website which allows property owners to find out exactly how the proposed referendum would affect their taxes.

“Should the referendum pass, it would bring the Blue Earth Area School District about up to average with where other districts are,” Hoheisel said.

If the referendum passes the revenues will not come into the district 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 explained.