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Delano Public Schools to seek $970 per pupil

DELANO, MN – The Delano School Board finalized details of the operating levy referendum during a special July 14 meeting.

During the Nov. 2 election, the district will ask voters to approve the revoking the current levy of $374.89 per pupil – which is set to expire at the end of 2022 – and replacing it with a new levy of $970 per pupil.

If approved, the levy would be in place for 10 years unless revoked or reduced, and would be adjusted by inflation annually during that period of time.

The tax impact would be an increase of about $282 annually on a $300,000 home, apartment building, and commercial-industrial property. That increase would fluctuate by about $94 annually per $100,000 in value. Agricultural property taxes for the proposed referendum would be based only on the value of the house, garage, and one acre.

Chair Lisa Seguin summarized the details of the resolution, but there was no further discussion.

District officials have estimated that, if voters do not approve the full amount, the district would need to cut 11 full-time-equivalent classroom teachers and/or specialists, and five FTE nonteaching staff; eliminate junior high activities or move them to a pay-to-play model; and increase activity fees.

School board reaches consensus on ballot question

DELANO, MN – Monday, the Delano School Board approved holding an operating levy referendum Tuesday, Nov. 2. Tuesday, the board reached consensus on the language to be on the ballot; and set a meeting for 5:30 p.m. Wednesday, July 14, to officially vote on the matter.

That language consists of one question that would revoke the existing operating levy, and replace it with an operating levy that is $600 more per pupil. The estimated tax increase would be $270 annually on a $300,000 home.

Monday’s vote was 6-1 with Board Member Rachel Depa opposed.

“I understand the need for the levy,” Depa said. “Timing is the issue. When I ran for the board, I was clear I would never vote for an off-year levy.”

“The primary reason we are focusing on this year as the first opportunity is because it’s not an election year, and we can focus voters on what’s important for the school district,” Chair Lisa Seguin said. “ … It would be virtually impossible to get the message to voters about what we need and why because of all the other noise. … Everyone can vote. Just because it’s an odd-year election doesn’t mean not everyone can vote.”

Initially the referendum committee – made up of Seguin, Depa, and fellow Board Member Jim Gierke – had recommended placing three questions on the ballot:

• Revoke the current operating levy, and renew it at the same amount with a small decrease to taxes.

• Ask for an increase of $500 per pupil unit, with an approximate increase of $225 annually on a house valued at $300,000.

• Ask for an additional $100 per pupil unit increase, with an approximate additional increase of $45 annually on a house valued at $300,000.

During a June 9 meeting, the board had considered a two-question ballot with the first question revoking the levy and replacing it with a levy that is $300 or $400 per pupil more, with a second question asking for a $600 per pupil increase.

Tuesday’s meeting began with the board discussing those options before reaching consensus.

“I don’t think I joined the board to make the district weaker by making $1.5 million in cuts, so I’m not in favor of strictly renewing,” Gierke said, referencing the reductions that would need to be made if the voters only approved a renewal.

Seguin said, “The first question has to be a number we have support to pass. I’d love to bundle it all in one question and go for the whole amount to get us to $600 per pupil, which is what we’ve been saying we need. I feel that would be a hard sell given the data we have in terms of the appetite of our constituents to support an increase.”

Seguin was referencing an April phone survey of 276 registered voters within the Delano School District. That survey showed 58.5% support for a $300 per pupil increase, 51.2% support for a $400 per pupil increase, 37.8% support for a $500 per pupil increase, and 33.3% support for a $600 per pupil increase.

Depa asked Business Manager Mary Reeder if she had adjusted projections due to the legislature approving a 2.45% increase in state aid in 2022, and a 2% increase in 2023, and Reeder said her projections assumed a 1% increase each year, with an estimated increase in enrollment factored into the equation.

Depa expressed concern about a three-question ballot.

“If we go for three questions, they’ll give us the lowest of the three,” Depa said. “Even people we’ve talked to who aren’t supporters of levies say, ‘If you ask for less than you need, that’s what they’re going to give you because you’ve already decided you’re willing to make a certain amount of cuts. Whatever we pick, we’re going to have to live with it for 10 years because that’s how long it’s going to take the public to say, ‘Give it another try.’ I’m not sure we’re willing to live with that kind of cuts.”

Board Member Amy Johnson said adding $600 per pupil to the existing operating levy, for a total of $964 per pupil, would put the district’s operating levy amount third behind Orono ($1,800 per pupil) and Westonka ($1,446) amongst comparable districts in the area. It would also put Delano above the state-weighted average of $846 per pupil. Johnson further noted that it would increase the district’s portion of Delano taxpayers’ taxes to an amount higher than the city and county amounts.

Board Member Jennie Rosenow said, “It feels irresponsible not asking for what we need because then we’re making other choices that don’t feel great.”

Board members then entertained a scenario in which the district would seek to renew the operating levy and add a $500 per pupil increase. Estimates show that would result in $100,000 in cuts. A second question could request an additional $100 per pupil increase.

“The point would be the likelihood of getting it passed,” Seguin said. “We need both questions, but the survey data told us we didn’t have enough support. We’re trying to protect it so we get at least most of what we need.”

Johnson said she would be most comfortable seeking a $400 per pupil increase, but said she would most likely vote in favor of a $600 per pupil increase.

“It’s disappointing we’ve been put in a position where we can’t renew at tax neutral,” Johnson said. “It’s splitting hairs for me to go from $400 to $600. I understand the need. I’m not going to be a person to decimate this district after being part of it for so long.”

All other board members voiced support for seeking the additional $600 per pupil, as well.

“It makes the due diligence of educating voters super straightforward if we do one question,” Board Member Corey Black said. “We’re saying, ‘We’ve done our research. We know what we need. We’re sorry we’re asking for more tax money, but this is what we need to keep us at status quo.’ That’s a pretty solid message.”

The next step is for Reeder to request the tax impact information needed for the resolution. The board will also need to approve a resolution for all Wright County voting to occur at Delano City Hall.

‘Have a great life, Tigers!’

DELANO, MN – While commencement for the class of 2021 was Sunday afternoon, retiring Delano High School administrative assistant Marie Thomas began her address the same way she began the morning announcements every school day: “Good morning, Tigers!”

And, just as she encouraged the students to have a great day at the end of her announcements, she closed her speech by saying, “Have a great life, Tigers!”

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School district budget taking shape

DELANO, MN – Delano School Board members took a look at the proposed budget for the 2021-22 school year during Monday’s workshop. The board will take action on the budget during the Monday, June 28, regular meeting.

“Most of the budget is pretty well set,” Business Manager Mary Reeder told the board.

The proposed budget calls for $350,000 in budget cuts, a $150,000 transfer from the staff development fund to the unassigned fund balance, and $1,091,118 in deficit spending that would reduce the district’s unassigned fund balance to $4,126,121. The board did not discuss the cuts specifically.

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Survey: 73.6% support renewing operating levy, 33.3% support large enough increase to avoid cuts

DELANO, MN – In April, 276 registered voters within the Delano School District participated in a survey regarding a potential operating levy that could be on the ballot in November.

The Delano School Board learned the results of the survey Wednesday, May 12.

Of those polled, 73.6% supported renewing the existing operating levy, which provides about $1 million for the district and will expire in 2022. However, when it came to adding a new operating levy that would increase taxes, support for an increase large enough to stave off more cuts was 33.3%.

Interviewees were told that the district may ask voters to increase property taxes to provide additional funding for the district and were asked, “Based on what you know now, would you favor or oppose such a proposal?”

Initially, 36% of interviewees said they were in favor, 53% were opposed, and 11% had no opinion.

Interviewers then read a number of statements and asked if each statement of potential impacts would make the interviewee more or less likely to vote for such a proposal.

Interviewees prioritized these potential impacts and statements: offering more resources for struggling students; programs to prep students for college and career; expanding technology and computer science programs; maintaining or reducing class sizes; maintaining or expanding band, music, and choir; adding more world, or foreign, language programs for younger students; the fact that the average levy in Minnesota is $1.25 million higher per year, or $482 higher per student; and expanding online learning opportunities.

After hearing those statements and potential impacts, the level of support for increased taxes increased to 55.6%, while 25% said they would never vote for a tax increase, no matter what the amount or how the money raised would be used.

“The good news is, while the initial reaction started off pretty weak about increasing the operating levy, by the time people heard the examples I’ve gone through, support jumped almost 20%,” said Baker Tilly Director Don Lifto, who presented the results of the survey. “To give you an idea of how significant that is, I’ve probably done 500 of these in the last 20 years. There were only two or three of those where the difference was that much from the initial reaction to the reaction after information. It is significant. On the other hand, 55.6% is basically right at the margin of error, so it’s on the bubble.”

Lifto told the board that the margin of error was 5.9%; meaning final results could be 5.9% higher or 5.9% lower than the survey indicated.

How much of a tax increase did interviewees say they would support? In random order, they were asked about the following annual tax increase amounts based on a $300,000 home: $135, $180, $225, and $270.

Support was as follows: 58.5% for $135, 51.2% for $180, 37.8% for $225, and 33.3% for $270. Those numbers were higher for new or unlikely voters who voted zero to two times in the last nine elections, and lower for active voters who voted at least six times in the last nine elections.

Based on those results, Lifto said an operating levy increase of about $150 for an average homeowner would be feasible, but that changes in the final ballot proposal and factors such as economic conditions and campaign efforts could affect voter support and turnout.

Business manager Mary Reeder said the amount needed to prevent further cuts would be $270 annually for a $300,000 home.

“If we decide to ask for the  $150, or if we decide to ask for something a little higher or a little lower, depending on where we want to go, those are all discussions I think we need to have,” Chair Lisa Seguin said. “Either way, it sounds like the $270 is likely not a question that we would probably be putting out there. And so, either way, we’ll likely be putting together content for our community to understand that, even with this increase, there will be, probably, future cuts to the district. We’ll just want to quantify those and talk about what those implications are.”

Reeder said she would crunch numbers to quantify the level of cuts that would be needed based on the different scenarios in advance of a special school board meeting Thursday, June 10. During that meeting, the board is slated to make a decision about putting an operating levy question on the ballot in November.

The board has a number of options.

It could opt to put a renewal of the operating levy on the ballot in November or not, add a new levy with a renewal on a November ballot, or wait to put a new levy on the ballot until 2022.

“In most scenarios, if we don’t get it all done in one year, we’ll end up with two different levies, which is going to be messy and confusing to taxpayers,” Seguin said.

“We can make sure we get the renewal and, if we happen to get a ‘no,’ we have another shot to ask again,” Board Member Jim Gierke said.

Superintendent Matt Schoen said the district could put a renewal on the ballot in November, and a nine-year operating levy on the ballot in 2022, so both levies would expire in 2031.

“We would always land on an odd-year election,” Reeder said. “The legislature has tried to take away the ability to run odd-year elections.”

Board Member Amy Johnson said, “I don’t know if we can risk more than a renewal. That’s my one vote. I’m not ready to say I’m in support of any increase at this time.”

She asked when some of the district’s bond debt would come off the books. Reeder said she would need to research that, but it could be as soon as three years.

“If you have something going off, and you’re asking for something that would replace that same dollar amount, you can say it would not cause a tax increase,” Reeder said. “Waconia did that a few years ago. They had something going off on the bond side, so it was a zero tax impact.”

“What if it’s $300 coming off the bond in three years? We should wait three years and ask for $300, instead of skimp by with $150 and try to go back within 10 years to get more money,” Johnson said. “That’s what people get really fired up about.”

Seguin said that is something the referendum committee and school board should consider.

Odds and ends

In other business, the board:

• approved the hiring of Delano Elementary School Principal Rachel Schultz, who will earn a base salary of $102,000 plus benefits.

• approved the hiring of Delano Intermediate School Principal Katie Thompson, who will earn a base salary of $110,000 plus benefits.

• approved Health Partners as the new dental insurance provider for district staff. The change is expected to save district staff money, while including additional coverage for children on the plan.

• approved the LGU James Metzen Mighty Ducks Grant application for an improvement at the Delano Area Sports Arena. The cost of the improvement is $132,575, and DASA is requesting $25,000.

• approved the Delano High School dance team summer trip to Buena Vista University in Storm Lake, IA.

‘Theory of Relativity’ May 14, 15, 20, 21, 22

DELANO, MN – The Delano High School Performing Arts Center will host the musical “The Theory of Relativity” at 7 p.m. May 14, 15, 20, and 21, and at 1 p.m. May 22. Order tickets here.