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Belinda Selfors

STEWARTVILLE — In the end, the Stewartville School Board decided voters will be asked one question on the Nov. 5 ballot.

With its current voter-approved operating levy set to expire in the near future, Stewartville Public Schools Superintendent Belinda Selfors said the district needs to replace the levy with a new one that will generate an additional $500,000 a year for the district. 

"This allows us to keep our current programs and staff with benefits and wages as competitive as we can make them," Selfors said.

The district surveyed more than 1,000 residents in June and early July, asking questions ranging from their satisfaction with the district's performance and the residents' willingness to fund a higher voter-approved operating levy for the district. The support for both was fairly high. 

"They were thrilled with the performance of the school district, so that was very good news," Selfors said, pointing to the survey response where 84 percent of residents were either satisfied or extremely satisfied with the district's performance. "Also, we asked some questions about how we are performing in 11 different areas. Nothing fell below 2.5 (on a scale of  1 to 4), which is really good, according to the consultants."

Correcting herself, Selfors said the one item below that level was the staff response to the district's ability to retain workers, particularly paraprofessionals and custodians. 

The other key to the survey, Selfors said, was the support the district's residents showed for additional operating levy money for the district. The survey asked potential voters if they would support rescinding the current $317.92 in favor of a $535 per pupil levy. 

During the school board meeting, Selfors explained those numbers are not what will appear on the November ballot. 

Near the end of the session, the state Legislature passed a measure allowing schools to add an additional $300 board-approved levy on top of the previous $424 board-approved levy. 

The board has already enacted a $424 board-approved levy to go with its $317.92 voter-approved levy. Because those levies must replace voter-approved monies, the additional $300 to total $724 of board-approved levy funds will eventually be passed, leaving $17.92 of voter-approved money. 

The November ballot measure will replace that $17.92 with a $246.41 levy, giving the district the additional $500,000 it needs to maintain its current level of operation, Selfors said. 

"We want to be considerate of the taxpayers and the community that supports us," the superintendent said.

The new money, while keeping up with inflation that has continued to rise long after that initial $317.92 was passed, won't add any new programs or staff support.

The board did consider a second ballot question, but Selfors said the survey showed voters would not pass additional money beyond the $500,000 increase.

Not that additional money would not be put to good use. One of the four categories that would have been covered with a second ballot question is mental health services for students.

"We know mental health disorders are on the rise among children," Selfors said. "We've seen that in the classrooms. We're having more and more of those students come into our schools."

Currently, the district has three counselors to support the 1,100 students in grades six through 12 plus one social worker, and two counselors for the 1,000 students in grades kindergarten through five, plus a social worker for that grade. 

The district also works with Fernbrook Family Center, giving referrals for out-of-school counseling and mental health treatment. 

Other programs would have included career and tech ed, to ensure students are prepared for life after graduation.

"We do a good job with students for two- and four-year college readiness," Selfors said. 

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Regional Reporter

Brian Todd is a 1997 graduate of Nebraska-Omaha. He covers Goodhue, Wabasha, Winona and Houston counties and writes a weekly column about the life of a reporter.