In a situation that already played out in Brainerd and Crosby-Ironton and nearly 100 other Minnesota school districts in November, taxpayers in the Walker-Hackensack-Akeley School District will be asked to vote Tuesday on a school operating levy referendum.
The school district is asking taxpayers to pass two operating levy referendum questions to increase school funding. The first question asks for a $500 per pupil increase to maintain existing academic and extracurricular activities for students.
The second question, which will only pass if the first question is approved, asks for an additional $100 per pupil increase to pay for preventative and current maintenance-related projects.
If approved, the operating levy would be applicable for 10 years and available to the district for the 2008-09 school year. The district does not have a current operating levy unlike 90 percent of school districts in the state, according to the school Web site.
Polling sites listed for W-H-A Referendum
Walker-Hackensack-Akeley School District residents will head to the polls from noon to 8 p.m. Tuesday to cast their votes for or against the W-H-A School District operating levy referendum.
The polling sites are combined for this special school election so residents need to be aware that they may not end up voting at their polling site for regular elections.
Here are the four polling sites:
- Walker-Hackensack-Akeley High School: Encompasses all territory in the school district located in the city of Walker; Hubbard County townships, Lakeport and Steamboat River; and the following Cass County townships, Shingobee, Turtle Lake, Pine Lake, Boy Lake and Leech Lake.
- Hackensack City Hall: Encompasses all territory in the school district located in the city of Hackensack and the townships of Hiram, Birch Lake, Woodrow and Powers.
- Akeley Regional Community Center: Encompasses all territory in the school district located in the city of Akeley and the following Hubbard County townships, Thorpe, Mantrap, Akeley, White Oak and Badoura.
- Onigum Community Center: Encompasses all of Sections 1, 2, 3, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 24 and Government Lot 1 of Section 23 and Government Lots 6 and 7 of Section 25 Township 142, Range 31, North Shingobee.
The levy increase is needed because the district as of October is in statutory operating debt, or SOD. SOD occurs if a district exceeds its expenditure limitation when its operating fund balance is a negative amount that exceeds 2.5 percent of its unreserved operating expenditures. Walker-Hackensack-Akeley School District has a current fund balance of negative $640,537, or 6.8 percent of the current budget.
The district attributes this shortfall to a lack of funding from the state, including three years of flat funding from the state, and the district's declining enrollment. The district's student enrollment has dropped in the past decade from 1,052 students in 1997 to the current enrollment of 911 students. The district expects enrollment to continue to drop until the year 2012 with 750 students.
If the levy is approved, property with a market value of $100,000 would see an annual property tax increase of $32.27 if the first question is approved, an increase of $6.45 if the second question is approved, for a total of $38.72 if both questions pass. A market value of $200,000 would see a property tax increase of $129.08 if the first question is approved, an increase of $25.82 if the second question passes for a total of $154.89 if both questions are approved.
According to the school district, data provided by the Minnesota Department of Education for 2005-06 showed that W-H-A residents paid $108 per $100,000 worth of property compared with the state average of $311. With the passage of the referendum, W-H-A residents would still be paying less than the state average in school property taxes.
During the 2006-07 school year, the school board cut more than $1 million from the projected 2007-08 school budget of $9.5 million. Additional budget cuts were made during this school year to curb expenditures.
If Tuesday's operating levy referendum does not pass, the district will have to cut an additional $1.244 million from the budget over the next three years.
For more information about the levy vote, visit the Walker-Hackensack-Akeley School District Web site at www.wha.k12.mn.us or contact Superintendent Wallace Schoeb at (218) 547-4201 or Pastor Mark Olson, chair of the Save Our School committee, at (218) 547-1850 (church) or 547-2570 (home).
JODIE TWEED may be reached at email@example.com or 855-5858.
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