Viewpoint: Stay informed and vote on Nov. 7
Keith Jacobus is the District 833 superintendent
On Nov. 7 our community will be asked to cast their vote on three referendum questions. Like 99 percent of school districts across Minnesota, we are funded, in part, by levies approved by our community. These questions will help us to maintain the excellent educational opportunities we provide for our students, and ensure we regain and maintain a system of strong financial health. We have worked hard to inform voters of the details of the referendum through community conversations, e-mails and a newsletter that went to every household in our school district. In addition, we also have an extensive referendum page on our website, along with a tax calculator, to help you fully understand what is on the ballot and how school districts are funded. I want to summarize our referendum questions and invite you to contact us for more information, if needed, prior to casting your vote.
The first question on the ballot is a levy renewal. This levy has been in place for the past 20 years and would not increase taxes. In fact, if question one is approved, property taxes would be slightly reduced because the district's population has grown since the last time the levy was approved. This question generates $15 million annually and has been a significant portion of our general education funding. If the question passes, we will avoid cutting our budget by $15 million and we will be able to continue to fund programs and services we currently have in place for our students. The levy would be in place for 10 years.
The second question is an additional operating levy of $7.5 million that would allow us to maintain programs and increase the financial health of the district. It is important to know this question is the continuation of a request we made to our community two years ago. In 2015, the school board determined the district needed an additional $900 per student to maintain district programs and services. However, the decision was made to implement a step approach and request the added funding in two election cycles. That year, the community approved our first request for $525 per pupil. Now we are completing the process by requesting the additional $375 per pupil. These funds prevent budget reductions that could impact community supported programs and services offered to our students. The support would also help us return our fund balance to within the level set by board policy, which will provide our community tax savings through a higher bond rating when we are selling bonds for construction and maintenance projects.
The final question on the ballot is a capital projects levy. Capital project funds are dedicated to specific technological hardware, software and tech support and a previous capital project levy for technology expired in 2016. This question will generate $2 million annually to provide a sustainable funding source for a number of technology needs. The first is the maintenance of hardware used throughout our district by our students. As these devices age and no longer function, we need a sustainable system to replace and upgrade them to ensure our students have a workable device to access learning materials and prepare them for the tech demands they will face after graduation. A second element of the funds will be utilized to upgrade and sustain the educational software students and teachers use as part of our curriculum. And a final element of the funding are the technology support personnel that keep our systems up and running. If the question fails, we will continue to spend funds from our savings or fund balance to address these needs.
Thank you for taking the time to stay informed about these three important questions on the ballot this fall. Please visit our website at www.sowashco.org/election2017 to learn more and email firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any questions.
And don't forget to vote on Tuesday, Nov. 7. To find your polling location, please visit www.pollfinder.sos.state.mn.us. You can also vote early at a Washington County service center, on or before Nov. 6. Thank you.