Faribault School Board hears two sides to levy question

/ 7 May 2012 / jennifer

Allison Roorda, Faribault Daily News, May 7, 2012 –

There may be several options with Faribault Public School District’s levy question, but some school board and district staff members don’t see much of a choice.

The question of a possible levy dominated the school board’s work session on Monday night. Director of Finance and Operations Colleen Mertesdorf presented some information about how different levy amounts would affect the district’s fund balance, revenues and expenditures. She gave the school district some stark options. Going into next year, the board would have to increase the district’s levy, make more cuts or outspend the fund balance.

Just The Facts

If the district assumes nothing changes with revenues while the district’s expenditures increase by 3 percent per year, the fund balance will decrease and start falling into the negatives by school year 2014-2015. An excess levy helps to offset the district’s slow decline in the fund balance.

With a $265 excess levy, the fund balance doesn’t sink to $0 until the fourth year of the levy. With an excess levy of $460, the fund balance lasts for five years before dipping down into negative figures in the sixth year of the levy. An excess levy of $515 brings the ending fund balance to $0 in the sixth year of the levy.

The school district currently has a levy of $385, which came up in 2010.

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Excess levy options 

“We really don’t have a choice,” said board member Jerry Robicheau.

“You have some tough choices,” Mertesdorf answered.

Mertesdorf showed the school board a variety of scenarios, ranging from an excess levy of $265 to a levy of $515 or even $926, which would bring Faribault’s total levy amount right around the state limit when included with the district’s current levy of $385.

“Four hundred sixty looks a little bit better. I think if we do that we can probably maintain (the fund balance),” Mertesdorf said. “Somewhere between $460 and $515 gives us a little more.”

Superintendent Todd Sesker had some reports from focus groups from within the school district, saying what administrators and district staff thought of the levy question.

“It probably comes as no surprise that the majority was for it,” Sesker said.

Sesker did ask the focus groups what they would like to see if a levy is passed and funds are available. There was a large response for a seven-period day at Faribault High School rather than the current model of a six-period day. Other suggestions brought up included expanding the gifted and talented program at the elementary schools, increasing science, technology, engineering and mathematics education and preventing the many cuts the school board avoided this spring by taking money from the Severance Fund and the General Fund.

The board also liked the idea of using the potential levy funds for specific purposes within the district.

“I like the idea of the product driving the decision rather than picking a number out of a hat,” said board member Tom Casper.

Community members were also at the school board meeting to include their opinions. Some commented on how the levy funds could potentially help improve the schools.

“I’d like to see us innovate with the local competition,” said Brent Peroutka. “How can we set ourselves apart from the Lakevilles, the Northfields?”

“We need to make things more appealing here in town,” said Mike Kawell, owner of Mike’s Garage. “My focus is how do we make the community better so the jobs pay more.”

Not everyone was all for the levy. Board member Richard Olson questioned what the levy would do to increase taxes for people in Faribault.

“How much can this community afford?” Olson said.

A heated discussion followed between school board chair Jason Engbrecht and Olson regarding their approaches to a possible levy. Olson criticized the school board’s recent decision to approve the agreement between the board and the Faribault Education Association with a pay increase of 5.5 percent over two years. Olson, who voted against the agreement, said he would remain consistent by voting against a levy question as well. Engbrecht asked Olson what Olson’s alternative to a levy would be, but Olson said he didn’t have a plan going forward yet.

One parent of a Faribault Middle School student at the meeting asked the board to consider those families in Faribault that might have a problem paying the extra money a levy would require. But other community members were in favor of a levy question.

Kawell — who came before the school board in March to speak on behalf of the Auto Services Program, which was under the knife of budget cuts — said he didn’t want to see the Auto Services Program get lost after fighting to save it.

“There are a lot of people that are making every penny count,” Peroutka said. “I think the economy’s picking up. I think, personal opinion, there’s enough support behind it, whether it’s a cup of coffee a day or two packs of cigarettes a day.”

“I hate to see additional cuts to our school programs,” said Cheryl Freund. “I can’t see us continually making the cuts and not stand up and say something.”

The school board made plans to move forward with the possibility of a levy. Sesker plans to start focus groups in the community, saying he’d like to get both negative and positive points of view on the levy. The board tentatively plans to make a decision whether or not to approve a levy — and, if so, a specific amount — at a special board meeting on June 11.

Allison Roorda covers education in Rice County. She may be reached at 333-3132. Follow her on Twitter @AllisonRoorda