The Hastings School District is proposing to renew an operating levy that was originally approved in 2005. That levy was approved for eight years. We sat down with Superintendent Tim Collins to ask some of the key questions that the public will want answered. The following is a recap of some of the questions we asked:
What is the ballot question?
The school board is asking residents to renew the current levy that was approved, in 2005, for another 10 years. The levy amount will then increase at the rate of state inflation. (Typically this has been around 1.5 percent to 1.8 percent) The levy of 2005 had been increasing by 3 percent annually.
Will this levy increase the taxes on my home or business?
This levy will not increase the “school portion” of property taxes on your home or business for several reasons. This levy is the renewal of a tax levy that was approved by the community in 2005 and the district is not asking for additional dollars. Our student enrollment continues to decrease and therefore the taxable amount is decreasing as well. The number one reason that the renewal of this levy will not increase your school district taxes is due to the fact that the Hastings School District will be receiving an increase in state tax aid if the levy is approved. These are not additional dollars for the school district. The State of Minnesota has designated these aid dollars in an effort to lower the tax burden at the local level.
What happens if the levy fails?
This specific levy generates over $4.2 million dollars annually. If the levy fails, there are several immediate impacts:
A. Our fund balance will decrease by $4.2 million dollars for the 2014 school year.
B. Our annual cuts will have to be increased in an effort to offset the loss of $4 million dollars. These cuts will create larger class sizes and decreases in educational programs.
C. We will not receive all of the $940,902 in state aid.
Why did the school board decide to have the levy renewed for 10 years?
The school board recognized that local operating levies are not going away. An operating levy is part of the core funding base for public school districts across the State of Minnesota. The school board knows that we will need these core funding dollars three years from now and 10 years from now. Every time we have an operating levy vote there is also a financial cost as well as cost in time and energy from many individuals. By having the levy approved for ten years we can focus our time and energy on academic issues.
Why does it seem like the school district is always having a public vote?
School districts, across the State of Minnesota, are the only government entity that is required by law to go to the public for approval of operating dollars and bond dollars. Because school districts have to ask for voter approval, a perception occurs that we are often asking for more money. The reality, in this particular vote, is that we are asking to renew the levy at the same dollar amount as in the previous year.
What if the levy passes?
We will not get additional dollars or an increase in revenue for our budget, if the levy is approved. We are asking for the same level of funding from our taxpaying citizens and that is why this levy is named a renewal. The school district will need to make continued budget reductions with the passage of the levy. The passage of the levy gives the school board stable funding to make prudent decisions.
Why will the ballot question state that a Vote Yes is a vote to increase taxes?
This is frustrating, because in reality if we vote yes, school district property taxes will go down because the State of Minnesota will provide $940,902 of property tax aide to the Hastings School District. The official ballot must state your taxes will increase because the local levy dollars will increase by the state inflationary rate of approximately 1.5 percent. While the levy amount will increase annually because if this inflationary rate the amount the taxpayer will pay will still be less than what they paid in 2012.
Do we have another voter-approved levy in place in the School District? If so, what is its status?
We have two voter-approved levies in the district. The first levy was approved in 2003 and was approved for eight years. So, in the fall of 2011 the community renewed that levy for another eight years until the year 2019. The current levy that we are renewing was approved in 2005 for eight years. We are now renewing that levy, in the year 2013, and we are requesting that it be renewed for 10 years.
If the district enrollment has been declining, shouldn’t the expenses be declining as well?
The answer is not necessarily. There are hundreds of examples that I could give you. However, I will share just a few examples with you. If we have 50 fewer students at our middle school site, we don’t reduce custodial, secretarial, administration or teaching staff because of 50 fewer students. With four grade levels at the middle school site that would be a 12 student drop at each grade level. We lose revenue but we can’t reduce costs. If we have 13 fewer second grade students we don’t cut teaching staff because those 13 students would drop the average class size, district wide, from 22 to 21 in second grade. That drop is not enough to cut teaching staff.
The Hastings School district was very progressive in getting ahead of our declining enrollment. We closed Cooper Elementary and Tilden Elementary because of declining enrollment and that is how we have cut our expenses district wide to deal with the decline in enrollment.
There are some costs that escalate regardless of how many students you have enrolled. In 2009 our work comp costs for the district were $146,000 and in 2013 our costs are $423,000. Our enrollment has dropped, which brings in less revenue, but our costs in this area have increased significantly. There are many more examples that I could give you similar to this situation.