CHATFIELD — For the third time in the last decade, the Chatfield School District is asking the community to pass an operating levy.
Ed Harris, in his tenth year as Chatfield Superintendent, said the district's gradual decline in enrollment and its size has created a 5-year deficit cycle. Without a boost to enrollment, the state's annual increases are not enough to cover inflationary costs.
"So we've had to go out to our voters for additional operating funds about every five years," said Harris. "And we're back into that cycle of our expenses overtaking our revenues."
What's on the ballot
There will be two different referendum questions on Tuesday's ballot.
"With a mixture of opinions out there, we thought we would give more choices for voters," Harris said.
Question 1 is to revoke the district's existing referendum revenue authorization of $476 per pupil, and replace it with an authorization of $751 per pupil (a $275 increase). Question 2 is to increase the district's general education revenue by $75 per pupil. Both authorizations would be applicable for five years.
"Our particular community, I think they appreciate the chance to reevaluate more frequently than 10 years," Harris said.
If both questions pass, the district will avoid staff cutbacks and increased fees. If Question 1 is approved by voters and Question 2 fails, Harris said the district will need to consider cutbacks and increased fees but to a lesser degree.
If both questions fail, the district will need to cut between $100,000 and $150,000 from its budget for the 2020-2021 school year. Class sizes and choices will be impacted, along with activity fees.
After failing to pass an operating levy in 2010, voters returned the next year and passed one. The Chatfield School District passed another operating levy in 2015 and then a building project in 2016
He said the community has always been good at understanding what the district is asking for and why, but like anywhere else, nobody really likes their taxes going up. Votes on the last operating levies were close, said Harris.
Not great timing
With the city also approving an extensive public pool project just over a year ago, Harris said the district is sensitive to the tax situation.
"Tax impacts have been a little more frequent, but we couldn't do much about the timing," Harris said.
With the current levy expiring in two years, Harris said the district needs to have a plan in place instead of waiting until the last minute.
"We don't want to make it an all-or-nothing scenario," he said.
So the school board made the decision to reduce its budget significantly, spend down some reserves and then turn to the community for help.
In his decade as superintendent, Harris said he's never seen a group or campaign in opposition of the schools getting increased funding.
"People are getting the information from us pretty thoroughly up-front," he said. "There isn't anything or anybody that's made a notable opposition presence."
Harris wants community members to know the funding it's now asking for will not be used to recoup those cutbacks.
Another misconception the district wants to set straight before the election is that the district's shortfalls financially are unrelated to the high school construction project, which did not go over budget.
"Even if we had not done the building project, our situation today would be no different," said Harris.
Voting will take place at Chatfield City Hall on Tuesday, with polls open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.