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School board plans campaign on operating referendum

EYOTA — The Nov. 8 operating referendum took center stage during Monday’s Dover-Eyota School Board meeting. Superintendent Bruce Klaehn told the board that education will be the key in getting the district’s point of view out to voters on the issue.

"There will be legislators coming out to tell people that schools shouldn’t be doing operating referendums," Klaehn said.

One problem, the superintendent said, is that legislators who oppose the per-pupil levies are armed with misinformation that makes it look like the school district will be awash in new money from the state. Klaehn said that just isn’t true.

"For example, what the state is showing is what is the maximum amount we could get for the integration levy," Klaehn said, referring to a program designed to help fund programs in districts where nearby schools differ in diversity by more than 20 percent. "But we get that only if there is a corresponding expense."

Klaehn said that fuzzy math from the state makes it look like the Dover-Eyota district will get money that can go to a general fund, when, in fact, any new money is tied to new expenses.

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Another issue the board fears may confuse voters is the fact that individual tax burdens might increase for some homeowners due to a change in how property taxes are calculated. However, the school’s portion of a homeowner’s tax burden would remain the same per household since the Dover-Eyota district is asking voters to renew an existing tax levy not add any new amount. Still, with overall property taxes potentially rising, Klaehn said there exists a fear that voters might reject the school levy.

The board has created a "Frequently Asked Questions" sheet that it hopes will help voters understand the district's position on the operating levy issue. But just what that FAQ should say, and how much it should explain are questions the board wrestled with on Monday.

"I’m worried that by explaining too much it will cause confusion," board member Molly Rieke said.

Board member Dan Johnson echoed that concern.

"Be careful about answering the question that you’re aware of that the public probably isn’t yet," he said.

Both board members said that an informed public benefits the board’s position on the issue, and having answers ready is a plus. But both — along with a general consensus from the rest of the board — wondered if the FAQ might create more questions than it answers.

"I don’t know if I can tell the story," Klaehn said. But he added, "I just want to have an accurately informed public when they go into the booth."

The district has received positive responses on how its conducts its business, and by asking voters to renew an old levy instead of raising the ante, Klaehn said he hopes voters won’t push back against the tax measure by sheer impulse

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"Our surveys indicate people are happy," he said.

The operating levy will ask voters to approve funding at the rate of $126.79 per student, which amounts to roughly $132,000 in the Dover-Eyota district budget. That amount, which is already part of the tax burden of homeowners in the district, comes to about $40 per household valued at $150,000. Klahn said that if the measure doesn’t pass its effect on the school’s programs would have to be determined in the coming years. That said, there’s not any fat left in the budget.

"We’d eat into the reserves we like to have for a rainy day," he said. "We’re not going to the people saying, ‘If you don’t do this, then X will happen.’ If the answer is no, we’ll have to sit down and look at it."

New laptop program

High school principal Todd Rowekamp told the board that distribution of new laptops to 10th-, 11th and 12th-graders has gone smoothly thus far. The Internet bandwidth has thus far kept up with demand, and most teachers have found ways to incorporate the computers into the learning experience.

"Some teachers came in with lessons completely ready to go," Rowekamp said. "Others have a toe in the water."

The principal said that since not every teacher is a computer expert — and some kids are — the students will have a chance in some instances to do some teaching on how these new tools can be used.

"That’s kind of a neat thing," he said.

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Klaehn said that the laptops, which are school property, come with some strings attached. There is a handbook specifically addressing computer issues. And parents were required to come in for an informational meeting before their students would be allowed to take a laptop home.

"We spent a whole year researching the issue and talking to other schools that have handed out laptops," Klaehn said. "We’re in a world where we need to teach kids why they don’t want to do something (inappropriate) on the computers. This is a good opportunity for parents to have the computer talk with their kids."

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