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Time to get informed for this coming Nov. 5 special election

By Staff | Sep 22, 2019

Someone once said it is always about the money. Even when someone says it isn’t about the money, it usually is.

The Blue Earth Area School Board is making no bones about it. Their request for the residents of the school to vote for an excess levy referendum this fall is, indeed, all about the money. The money it takes to run the school.

Schools are funded in a different way than, say, cities. The state gives cities money, and the cities are free to then also tax local property owners for the rest of what they need to run the city. Some cities boost their revenue by raising that local levy a little or a lot each year.

School districts also get money from the state, some of which is also a local tax levy. But that amount of the local levy is limited. Pretty much it is determined by the state, and the school district just has to live with it.

In Minnesota schools are funded by how many students they have. The more pupils, the more money. Blue Earth Area, like most schools, gets around $7,000 to $10,000 per student, depending on a complex formula of add ons. The average is probably around $8,000 per student.

And BEA, like many school districts in rural Minnesota, has declining enrollment. And according to this way they are funded, fewer students means less money.

So, while they still have to hire teachers, run buses, heat the buildings, etc., they have less cash to do it with.

Pretty much they have two options here. Make cuts or get more money. The only way to get more money is to ask the district property owners for it or go out and find more students.

The BEA School Board is looking at using a voter authorized excess referendum to get more funds and has determined they need about $900 per student more to continue to operate as they are now. Now, if we figure there are about 1,000 students at BEA (there actually are a few more than that), it comes to $900,000. That may seem like a lot of money and it is. But consider the BEA District budget is over $16 million per year. And consider that if a district has lost 200 students in the last few years, they would be down at least $1.6 million.

BEA superintendent Mandy Fletcher says that $900,000 amount is needed just to maintain all the current class and extracurricular options the school now has. Yes, just to maintain what they have, not add anything new.

So, they are asking the residents in the district to vote this coming Nov. 5, on the question of whether to give themselves a tax increase in order to keep all the programs at the school.

Or not.

The School District wants you to be an informed voter, and they know you probably have questions and concerns. So they are going to hold some public informational meetings to both inform you and answer your questions. You don’t even have to come to the school in Blue Earth they will come to your town. There will be five meetings, one in Elmore (Sept. 24), Frost (Sept. 26), Winnebago (Sept. 30), Delavan (Oct. 10), and yes, in Blue Earth, too (Oct. 3). All of them start at 6:30 p.m.

One of your main questions might be how much is this going to raise your own personal property tax. There is a nifty little calculator on the school’s website you can use to get the answer. You just have to plug in your property’s tax ID number and there it is. Don’t know your parcel ID number? There is a link to the auditor’s office so you can find out. Or look at your most recent tax statement to find the parcel number.

At these informational sessions you will also find out more about the school’s finances and why they need this referendum. The School Board and the district have already made cuts, combined some staff, and used a lot of their excess fund balances.

Now they need these additional funds and they want to tell you why. I strongly urge you to attend one of the meetings and learn more and then become an informed voter on Nov. 5.

It is an off-election year. When you go to the polls on Nov. 5 you won’t be voting for president, mayor, senator or commissioner. But, you will have a chance to make an important decision about the future of your locals school.

This is your chance to get informed now, then be sure to vote on Nov. 5.