Voters trekking to the polls in dozens of Minnesota cities on Tuesday will be asked to set aside more money for school districts that are struggling with unexpected expenses.
The funds would cover increases in health care premiums and fuel costs, help to bring pay scales for clerical workers in line with the private sector and offset falling enrollments, among other things, according to several officials.
The requests might be a tough sell in cities like Rochester, where voters last April coughed up $12.99 million for a new elementary school. Now the Rochester School District wants up to $10 million for each of the next ten years to help run its schools. That would mean an extra $15 a month on a $75,000 home; another $30 a month on a $150,000 home, according to the district.
Most of the requests are in the form of excess levies -- money districts seek in local property taxes on top of state aid, which is doled out on a per-pupil basis. A few districts are also asking voters to approve bonds for construction projects.
The St. Peter School District has an especially tough task in asking for money from a community that is still recovering from the tornados that swept through town in 1998.
"There's a lot of rebuilding going on here, still a lot of anxiety," said superintendent Gil Carlson, who on Tuesday met with Gustavus Adolphus College students and the local Kiwanis club to explain the referendum. "So it's not easy just to tack on more taxes."
Enrollment in St. Peter is expected to decrease from 1,900 students to 1,700 over the next five years, costing the district $600,000 in state aid. The district already has an excess levy of $370-per-student and will ask for an increase of up to $500-per-student -- enough to cover $300,000 of the loss.
According to the state Department of Children, Families and Learning, more than 50 school districts -- about 35 in outstate Minnesota -- will ask for higher property taxes to run their schools. In 1996, the last time a presidential election was on the ballot, voters approved just 22 of 49 excess levy requests.
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