A recap of the upcoming referendum on schools in the Bemidji region

On Tuesday, November 2, voters in the Bemidji school district will answer the simple question: “Will the revocation of the existing referendum authorization and the new authorization proposed by the Board of Trustees of the Independent School District No. 31 (Bemidji), Minnesota be approved?“with a” yes “or” no “.

If the measure passes, the current district referendum authority of $ 180 per student will be revoked and replaced with a new referendum authority of $ 460 per student – a net increase of $ 280 per student. These taxes would be payable in 2022 and applicable for 10 years, unless otherwise revoked or reduced by law.

According to Lutz, about 90% of the funding will go towards student learning, student growth, student connections and activities.

How we got here

Voters in schools in the Bemidji region approved an operating tax of $ 180 per student for the district in 2014. Since then, the district has experienced a large budget deficit due to rising costs, reduction in state funding and other factors in recent years. Compared to the districts of the state, Bemidji district has a relatively low rate per student.

The next move in a referendum failed in November 2020 after the measure received 11,725 ​​”no” votes and 7,851 “yes” votes, meaning the district was unable to revoke its current referendum authority from $ 180 per student and replace it with an authority of $ 460.

As a result of the vote, the district was left with no choice but to make significant budget cuts, including closing Central Elementary after the 2020-2021 school year, which saved the district between $ 460,000 and $ 465,000.

More than 20 authorized employees were also cut at an April 19 board meeting, mostly at the elementary level, along with other staff cuts. The move saved the district $ 1.6 million, with total reductions at the end of last school year totaling around $ 4 million.

In an effort to avoid further cuts, a survey was sent to the Bemidji community in May to educate the public about the districts ‘financial problems as well as to gauge voters’ sentiment towards another referendum.

A change of approach

Comparing this year’s outreach efforts to those of last year, the committee is taking a more local approach thanks to the lifting of many coronavirus-related restrictions since the same period last year and an in-person presence in the area. community.

“Meeting face-to-face is much more effective,” Lutz said of his referendum briefings with the Rotary Club of Bemidji, the Lion’s Club and other organizations in recent weeks.

Lutz also met with school staff in the Bemidji area during their staff development day on Monday October 4 regarding the referendum, another way to ensure voters are informed before they vote.

He credited the poll as a way for them to receive feedback to inform the process of a second referendum vote.

How much would you pay?

Respondents to the survey were also given four options regarding the referendum:

  • An operating tax that provides $ 2 million per year (360 per student) for each of the next 10 years, forcing the district to continue making reductions each year.

  • An operating tax that provides $ 2.5 million per year ($ 460 per student) for each of the next 10 years, allowing the district to strive to maintain the current level of programs and services.

  • An operating tax that provides $ 3.1 million per year ($ 560 per student) for each of the next 10 years, allowing the district to explore reinstating some of the cuts that have been made.

  • Do not support any levy that leads to tax increases.

Of the 3,193 respondents, 36% were in favor of the $ 560 operating tax while 25% were in favor of the $ 460 option. Keeping in mind that 61% of respondents were in favor of clearing at least $ 460, Lutz was more confident going ahead with the second attempt to reach a drawdown of $ 460.

“It would be nice to get $ 560 per student, but we respect the answers and if we ask for more it won’t pass,” Lutz said. “$ 460 is what we can still work with and not make the cuts we made last year. “

With this choice, the property taxes portion of the authorized revenue will require an estimated referendum tax rate of 0.07384% for taxes payable in 2022. With an authorization of $ 460, for an owner with a property value of approximately 100 $ 000, the additional taxes would be about $ 45 per year if voters choose “yes” in November.

A home valued at $ 200,000 would have $ 147.55 in taxes owed, a difference of about $ 90 between the revoked and new direct debit authorization. A home valued at $ 500,000 would have $ 368.88 in taxes payable, a difference of about $ 225 between the revoked authorization and the new one if passed.

What this means for the budget

If the referendum passes, Lutz hopes the district can buy time while drawing on ESSER funds, or dollars that must be used, in part, to deal with the learning loss due to the pandemic.

The district received three rounds of funding, the first of which was $ 1.1 million which was used to offset staff costs, distance learning and funding for substitute teaching positions. The second tranche of $ 5.2 million was used to make up for lost income due to registrations and offsetting losses.

The third installment of $ 11.6 million, which will be spent by September 30, 2024, will be used to pay for class sizes, mental health supports and retention of existing staff.

The district spends these dollars first and then requests reimbursement on a regular basis, much like an insurance payment. “We are receiving enough funds to make up for the losses, but they will not solve the underlying problems,” Lutz said before detailing what would happen if this referendum was not passed.

“With (the adoption of the referendum), ESSER funds could prevent us from needing to make these cuts. Without a referendum, when ESSER funds are depleted, we will again find ourselves on a fiscal cliff, ”Lutz said before referring to further cuts of $ 1.5 million that could take place without increased levies.

Other budget cuts could include reducing teaching positions, offering fewer electives and reducing the number of activities for students, among other options.

“Our budgets are based on registrations,” said Lutz. “If we end up losing more students it could have a huge impact on things and with inflation out of our control we just don’t know how the district can maintain its status quo without a referendum.”

Lutz encourages early voting, which can be done at the district office from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. until Nov. 2 with valid identification. Alternatively, community members can visit pollfinder.sos.state.mn.us to find out where to vote on Tuesday, November 2.

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