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NYM School Board approves levy request amount

The New York Mills Public School currently has a $200 per pupil referendum. That amount will change if voters approve an increase to $450 per pupil, along with another $75 for technology upgrades, during the general election November 2.

The school board approved the request amounts during a special meeting Monday, August 9.

Referendums have become a very important component of school funding over recent years in the state of Minnesota.

Nearly $500,000 has been slashed from the district's operating budget over the past few years, and the question of needing a new referendum is a must to continue the strong tradition of quality programs and services for students, according to Superintendent Todd Cameron.

Schools are required by Minnesota law to hold referendum votes during general election years.

Referendums provide funding to the general operating fund to cover everything such as fuel, insurance, electricity, and staff salaries in contrast to bonds, which fund buildings and facilities,

The current referendum, $200 per pupil, provides $140,000 per year in revenue based on market values of property. A taxable market value of a property valued at $100,000 is assessed $42 per year in taxes for the school district under the current referendum.

Under the proposed $450 per pupil levy, a taxable market value of a property valued at $100,000 would be assessed $95 per year in taxes allocated for the school district, a net change of $53 per year.

A second question on the ballot will request an additional $75 per pupil for educational technology upgrades within the district for things such as overhead projectors and SMART Boards.

In order for the second question on the ballot to pass, the first question requesting $450 per pupil must be approved first.

Many owners of homestead properties would qualify for a refund based on their income and total property taxes under a new levy. This will decrease the net effect of the referendum levy for many property owners.

Owners of agricultural property will continue to pay taxes for the proposed referendum based only on the value of the house, garage and one acre of land. Seasonal recreation residential property such as cabins will pay no taxes for a proposed referendum.

Currently, the New York Mills School District sits toward the bottom of the list of district referendums among local districts within the Lakes Country Service Cooperative.

For example, Lake Park-Audubon has a per pupil amount of $750, Frazee $1,000, Parkers Prairie $1,200 and Rothsay has a levy of $2,250, far surpassing New York Mills.

The proposed referendum would still keep New York Mills as one of the lower referendums among local districts.

Although $450 per pupil seems like quite an increase over the current $200 per pupil levy, Cameron and members of the school board were quick to point out that even $450 doesn't give the district much breathing room because no new state money is expected to be infused into education over the next few years, even under a new governor, because the state is looking at a $2 billion budget deficit.

"There will be no new money coming from the state. We know that," said Cameron. "We can't guarantee budget reductions wouldn't still be made under a new referendum."

A $450 per pupil referendum would attempt to maintain the status quo within the district's budget but nothing is guaranteed.

"We can't maintain the way things are today without an increased referendum," Cameron said. "It's impossible financially. We can't do it."

Without the new referendum passing, class sizes are expected to increase, while college education classes and the arts will possibly be in jeopardy.

But with that being said, the district does not feel comfortable asking voters for a larger property tax increase at this time due to tough economic circumstances.

"I feel comfortable at this point with $450 for five years," said board member Tim Kupfer. "In 10 [years], it won't be enough."

Cameron and members of the board were quick to point out that concerned voters within the district who have questions regarding the new requested referendum are encouraged to contact administration to clarify any concerns they may have.

"We need to be clear as to why we chose this number," said board member Josie Hendrickx. "We need to be transparent."

Voters within the district will receive a postal mailing in the near future explaining how the question will be worded on the ballot November 2.