The Walker-Hackensack-Akeley School District's operating levy referendum failed Dec. 4 by a mere 18 votes.
So the school district has decided to try again, asking voters to pass an operating levy referendum on Feb. 12.
The school district is now in statutory operating debt and looking at three years of serious budget cuts. The levy referendum will ask voters for a $550 per pupil increase for eight years.
On Dec. 4 the district asked taxpayers in two questions to support a $500 per pupil levy to maintain existing academic and extracurricular activities and an additional $100 per pupil for capital expenses for 10 years.
W-H-A Superintendent Wallace Schoeb said Friday the school district decided to ask one question, rather than two, because some people were confused about the two questions. The district also changed its priority list for capital expenditures and now $50 per pupil of the proposed levy would go toward capital costs with $500 per pupil used to maintain existing programs and activities.
If approved by taxpayers, the operating levy would generate a net revenue of $593,000 the first year and then decrease each successive year because the district is experiencing declining student enrollment, said Schoeb.
The district now has 882 students in kindergarten through 12th-grade and is projected to reach a low of about 760 students during the next five years.
Polls will be open 10 a.m. until 8 p.m. Feb. 12, an extension from the previous special referendum vote because some voters said they didn't have the opportunity to vote because of conflicting work schedules, said Schoeb.
If the levy passes, the district is still looking at about $300,000 in budget reductions for next fall. If the levy fails, about $650,000 in budget reductions would need to be made. Schoeb said the school board meets Monday to finalize the list of budget cuts for the 2007-08 school year.
Normally, if a levy referendum passed in February, it wouldn't raise funds for a school district as quickly as the next school year but instead the W-H-A levy funds would be available for the school district for the 2009-10 school year. Schoeb said Reps. Larry Howes, R-Walker, and Frank Moe, DFL-Bemidji, have said they would introduce special legislation that would allow the levy to apply to the 2008-09 school year. This legislation would need to be passed by Feb. 27 to meet the Cass County Auditor's Office deadline, Schoeb said.
Schoeb said this time around Pastor Mark Olson, who heads up the Save Our Schools Committee, was the key spokesperson during the many levy presentations that have been conducted in the community. Still, it's been an exhausting process, he said.
"I'm worn out," Schoeb said with a laugh. "It's been one meeting after another. ... I guess I have to feel positive (about the levy passing). We put a lot of work into the whole process. We've had some negative feedback but we've gotten a lot of positive feedback. Time will tell, unfortunately."
Polling sites are at the W-H-A high school, Hackensack Community Center, Akeley Regional Community Center and the Onigum Community Center.
JODIE TWEED may be reached at email@example.com or 855-5858.
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