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Published July 20 2010

Moorhead voters to face school measure in November

This November will be déjà vu for Moorhead School District voters.

On Monday, the school board decided to go back to voters this fall with the same amount that they asked for last November: an $850-per-pupil operating levy.

Voters turned it down then. This time, though, leaders say, the situation is different.

“Are we more desperate? Yeah, we are,” Board Chairwoman Kris Thompson said. “Each year, we get closer to zero in our fund balance.”

School officials painted a gloomy picture Monday, forecasting that a district already struggling to stay afloat financially will be in even shakier waters if a vote fails again this year.

“It becomes even more bleak,” Superintendent Lynne Kovash said. “We really do need to look at this for our community and for our students.”

If voters approve an $850-per-pupil operating levy, an owner of a $100,000 home would pay $179 more a year to the district. In turn, the money could go toward things such as stabilizing the district’s funding, lowering class sizes and replacing outdated technology.

However, the boost only “gets us through the next few years,” Assistant Superintendent Wayne Kazmierczak said.

Officials project that an operating levy – even a $1,000-per-pupil levy – wouldn’t keep up with the lack of state funding. That means by 2014, the district will begin to deficit spend again and have to go back to voters.

It’s a situation Kazmierczak said will now be a reality for school districts across the state – unless funding changes.

“This is the nature of school funding in Minnesota,” he said. “You see how quickly things deteriorate without revenue locally. I think the general public understands Minnesota’s predicament.”

If November’s vote fails, the district projects deficit spending, starting with this school year. That would force the district to explore measures such as four-day school weeks and cutting programs.

“I don’t mean to sound overly dramatic. But that’s what we’re staring at,” Kazmierczak said.

The school board expects to formally approve referendum details in August.

This time, they’ll better communicate to taxpayers what a boost in money will provide and what will happen without it, Thompson said, adding about last year’s vote: “We learned a lot about communicating with the public.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter Kelly Smith at (701) 241-5515