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School board to discuss referendum details

Key details of an upcoming operating referendum in the Rochester school district could be settled Tuesday as the school board holds a critical meeting to discuss the size of the levy voters will consider in November.

The 5 p.m. study session at the Edison Building will also likely include discussion of how levy questions will be structured on ballots Nov. 2, according to Larry Smith, the district's finance director. A formal vote won't be taken on the meeting, but a consensus could be reached on what the board formally considers for a vote at its Aug. 3 meeting.

"Basically it (referendum money) will be spent to maintain existing programs that we've got," Smith said. "Without the new money, we'll have to be doing additional cuts to our budget."

The district has cut a combined $13.8 million over the last two years, cutting dozens of teaching positions and funding for programs while increasing class sizes.

A levy of between $5 million and $8 million was discussed at a board meeting in April when board members approved a fall levy campaign, Smith said. Those numbers were based on long-range financial forecasts from that time that have changed somewhat since, he said.


On Tuesday, the board will receive updated long-range financial projections, comparisons of Rochester with other districts, and the state budget forecast for next biennium, Smith said.

Different scenarios of what will go on the ballot in November will likely be discussed, Smith added.  Broad categories of potential budget cuts that will be needed for the 2011-2012 school year if the referendum doesn't pass could also be examined, he said.

In the meantime, a committee to support the referendum, Yes for Students, has formed recently and is creating a website and other materials, said co-chair Andy Thilges of Rochester. The group, which has about 50 members, expects to formally launch its activities on Aug. 13, he said.

The last time an operating referendum was presented to district voters was 2006. Results at the time were mixed.

Voters approved the first question, which extended by nine years existing referendums that were set to expire in 2007. The measure generates $440.84 per pupil, or around $8.5 million a year. The state average for referendum revenue is $795 per pupil.

A second referendum question was rejected in 2006, with 48.4 percent of voters favoring it. That question would have approved an additional $220 per pupil, or an additional $3.9 million in additional revenue each year.

The Rochester school board approved the 2010 levy campaign on a 6-1 vote in April, with Fred Daly dissenting.

At the time, Daly said the district needs to look at delivering education more efficiently rather than relying on a cycle of asking taxpayers for additional funding. At a school board candidate forum on Thursday, however, Daly said he now supports the board's decision to seek a referendum.


The district must finalize levy details by the statutory deadline of Aug. 20, Smith said.

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