The Owatonna school district is asking taxpayers for continued funding and a phased-in increase this election.
Voters will see two referendum questions requesting funding for Owatonna Public Schools on their Nov. 3 ballot.
The district is calling the funding requests a “renewal” and “reinvestment” in the schools.
“Strong schools truly do make stronger communities,” Owatonna Superintendent Jeff Elstad said.
The community approved bonds to build the new high school in 2019, but those funds can only be used for building projects and not operational costs. Elstad addressed questions posed by the community during last week’s State of the District address. While thanking the community for their support of the bonds, Elstad pointed out that approving these requests is crucial.
“It takes the learning, or levy, dollars for use to continue to offer the quality programming that our community has come to know and expect,” Elstad said last week.
The first question requests a renewal of the district’s current operating levy, which is set to expire in June 2021. This levy provides funding for the district’s operational costs including funding for staff, instruction and classroom supplies. The average homeowner should expect to see a tax increase of 50 cents per month in 2021 with an inflation adjustment, according to a Owatonna Public Schools news release.
The second question requests an increase in the district operating levy with a phased-in approach 2022 and 2025. As the levy is phased in over time, so too is the tax impact. The tax increase is about $10 per month on the average-priced home ($175,000), according to the district. The funds would maintain quality programming, appropriate class sizes and career/technical opportunities for students for years to come, according to the district. The approval of question two is dependent on if voters approve the first question.
The Owatonna School Board unanimously approved the questions in July. In addition, the board has pointed to a “shared approach,” as the district has made some budget cuts.
“What we have done is we’ve already cut $2 million dollars and we made a concerted effort as a district to make sure that we weren’t impacting classrooms, but we are at the point where any further cuts will impact class sizes, we will have to reduce teachers, we will be reducing support staff, administration and all of the activities, clubs and things that our students have come to love, which is a part of the fabric of our community,” Elstad said.
The bulk of the district’s funding, about 82%, comes from the state and 4% comes from the federal government. The remaining 14% comes from property taxes and local sources, according to the Owatonna Public Schools Finance Facts website. State funding for education has not kept up with inflation or the increasing cost of education, forcing schools to ask for local funding, according to the district.
Owatonna’s operating levy is lower than most schools in the Big 9 School Districts, with the exception of Mankato and Austin. Elstad said that’s a result of Owatonna schools stretching its dollars and being fiscally responsible. The Big 9 School Districts include Northfield, Red Wing, Winona, Rochester, Faribault, Albert Lea, Owatonna, Mankato and Austin.
The two questions voters will see on their ballots are:
Q1: ”The board of Independent School District No. 761 (Owatonna Public Schools), Minnesota has proposed to renew the existing referendum revenue authorization of $482.90 per pupil, subject to an annual increase at the rate of inflation, that is scheduled to expire after taxes payable in 2020. The renewed referendum revenue authorization would be first levied in 2020 for taxes payable in 2021 and applicable for ten (10) years unless otherwise revoked or reduced as provided by law.
Shall the renewal of the expiring referendum revenue authorization proposed by the Board of Independent School District No. 761 (Owatonna Public Schools), Minnesota be approved?”
Q2: ”The board of Independent School District No. 761 (Owatonna Public Schools), Minnesota has proposed to increase the School District’s referendum revenue authorization by the following amounts per pupil for taxes payable in the years specified:
$300 per pupil, subject to an annual increase at the rate of inflation, for taxes payable in 2022 through 2024
an additional $300 per pupil, subject to an annual increase at the rate of inflation, for taxes payable in 2025 through 2030
The proposed new referendum revenue authorizations would be applicable for nine (9) years unless otherwise revoked or reduced as provided by law.
If School District Question 1 is approved, shall the new referendum revenue authorizations proposed by the board of Independent School District No. 761 (Owatonna Public Schools), Minnesota be approved?”
If voters do not approve the two requests, the district will face at least $8.5 million in total budget cuts from 2020-21 through the 2022-23 school years, effectively increasing class sizes due to teacher layoffs, cuts to various support services and cuts to academic, activities, athletics and music programming. according to the district.
If the two requests are approved, the district will still make $5.25 million in cuts from 2020-21 through 2022-23 as part of the “shared approach.”
Reach reporter Ashley Rezachek at 507-444-2376. ©Copyright 2020 APG Media of Southern Minnesota. All rights reserved.