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Schools seek another $840,000

PINE ISLAND — Come November, Pine Island School District voters will be asked to pledge about $840,000 a year for each of the next 10 years, money that the district's administration says will help stave off looming job cuts.

Voters will see two questions on the Nov. 8 ballot — one for $600,000 a year that would extend the district's existing property-tax levy for another decade, and a second question that would net the schools another $240,000 a year on top of that.

"This is the minimum we think we need to hold off on cuts," Superintendent Chris Bates said. "We have tried to live within our means … and keep the levy as low as possible for the taxpayers."

Taken together, the two levies would raise about $700 per student each year as a supplement to educational funding from the state Legislature. The two levies would cost the owner of a $150,000 home about $210 a year — $150 to replace the existing property tax, and another $60 a year for the extra levy. The school board passed a resolution to ask for the referendums at its July meeting.

Such property tax levies are common across the state, as local school district leaders look for ways to increase their bottom line.


"We are to the point that if you don't have (an operating levy), it's pretty hard to make ends meet," Bates said.

Pine Island taxpayers have been paying an extra $500 a year per student for the past seven years and remain obligated to pay that through the 2013-2014 school year. The revoke and renew question would reset the 10-year cycle and extend it through 2021.

The second question — that $200 per-student increase — would add to existing tax bills. Bates and other promoters of the levies, however, say the increase is minimal and would go a long ways toward restoring fiscal stability in the district.

"It's about the same as two cans of soda a week," Bates said. "It will get us the same buying power as when the referendum was first passed."

Seven years of inflation and relatively flat funding from the state have combined to make the existing levy significantly less valuable than it was when voters first approved it, Bates said.

Another part of Bates' and the school board's pitch to voters is the average property tax levy across Minnesota. Taken together, districts in the state average about $1,000 per student each year, Bates said.

Even if both ballot measures pass, Pine Island's would top out at $700 per student.

"We're still well below the state average," Bates said. "We try to be as fiscally responsible as we can."


Although the district levies would keep the district below state averages, school leaders in Pine Island say the second levy could prove a tough sell in the fiscally conservative district.

That's why the board opted to split the referendum initiative into two questions — if voters reject the second measure the district won't be out any money.

During the board's June meeting, members also disclosed their reasoning for starting the levy initiative three years before the existing levy expires: If voters reject both questions, board members will have time to regroup and start over on trying to persuade the public of the levy's necessity.

In Bates' words: "If these both fail, and we can't even pass the revoke and renew, we're looking at drastic cuts."

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