Alden-Conger looking at levy referendum this November
Published 8:51 am Thursday, July 20, 2023
The Alden-Conger Public School District held the first in a series of community engagement meetings Wednesday evening to discuss the upcoming levy referendum.
Chad Schmidt, chair of the Alden-Conger school board, led the meeting.
The meeting was an informal discussion with community members in response to last year’s “No” vote on a proposed increase in the district’s general education revenue by $876 per pupil. District officials have said additional revenue was needed to maintain the education quality in the district.
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If last year’s referendum passed, it would have provided an additional $400,000 annually for operating expenses for things such as providing student programming, maintaining small class sizes, sustaining technology, maintaining and attracting staff and keeping pace with changing education needs.
Of note, costs to the district (as well as revenue) hadn’t changed, and the district wanted to hear from community members on what they felt was an appropriate levy, something of a middle ground that could realistically pass.
Schmidt said because last year’s question was two parts, there could have been potential confusion. The part of the question that passed revoked the authorization of $206 per pupil that was scheduled to expire after 2023 payable taxes and replaced it with a new authorization of $206 per pupil and will last nine more years unless revoked or reduced.
While the district would get some help from the state, the district would still be short without additional money because of increasing costs from inflation.That included electricity, gas, food and salaries.
“We’re still going to be fighting some budget problems here for the next year or so,” Schmidt said, also noting they were going to be receiving “some help” from the state in the latest legislative session.
The district is still looking for support.
Enrollment has steadily decreased, though he was optimistic enrollment would level out. Total enrollment is roughly 460 students.
The general fund balance was also going down.
“During COVID years [the state] allowed us, in some of those restricted funds, to move some money around to kind of compensate,” he said.
But now the district is at a point where they’re looking for additional funds.
Under last year’s failed request, the new operating levy referendum would have generated an additional $876 per pupil annually in taxes. That equated to a slightly over $73 per month increase in taxes for a property valued at $250,000 and would have brought in over $400,000 for the district. For a $125,000 property, the increase would be about $36 a month.
That is the district’s starting point for the upcoming levy referendum, though he agreed they could be asking for twice that amount.
“If we get a lot of feedback that says there’s no way that’s going to pass, maybe we lower it and ask for a little bit less,” he said. “If everybody’s encouraging, I think we ask for a couple hundred dollars more.
“That’s why we’re here tonight is just to get a general feel over the next month basically. We have to have this in roughly by Labor Day to get on the ballot.”
The purpose of Wednesday’s meeting was simply to discuss ways to make the levy more appealing to voters, with feedback determining the literal ballot question and how it could be framed.
To that effect, one of the first points made during the meeting was that there would not be a two-part question.
“That was the other feedback we got as a board, is that that ballot question was just quite confusing,” he said, noting in his case the second part of last year’s question was on the back of the ballot.
“Being able to just ask the simple question hopefully will help a lot,” he said.
Also of importance, this year’s enrollment is up slightly, though that number changes the closer it gets to the school year.
If the ballot question doesn’t pass, he noted the district would have to do something.
“We can’t continue to spend and not have any [money], just like any other business,” he said.
Of note, taxpayers were paying $206 per pupil, one of the lower figures in the state. By comparison, Albert Lea was at $594. United South Central was $1,277 per pupil, according to a graph Schmidt presented.
Alden Mayor Jerry Reyerson believed that because of the way the community supported the district in the past and got information, the referendum would pass.
He was also happy with the turnout, especially considering this was the first meeting.
“That’ll get the buzz going on the street and people ask more questions, and if they find accurate information I still think it’ll pass,” he said.
Gary Nelson, who taught at the elementary level in the district for 33 years, thought the proposed levy increase was low.
“We haven’t had an increase in 10 years, and either increase it or your school goes somewhere else and you’re still paying for it,” he said.
All property owners in the district would be subjected to the levy.
According to former teacher Lori Nelson, Alden-Conger had approximately 50% open enrollment, and that was a reason why the school was kept where it was.
“We need to have a school that people still want to have their kids attend,” she said. “We need to do whatever we can to keep things going here.”
The idea for a levy was in consideration for a couple years, though last year’s proposed levy was the first time it was put on a ballot.
The meeting was held at the school’s media center. Due to a scheduling conflict, Superintendent Brian Shanks was not present. No future meeting dates to discuss the upcoming referendum were discussed. For more information, visit the school’s website, alden-conger.org, or their Facebook page. The final vote on the levy referendum will be Nov. 7.
Schmidt emphasized that the request for an $876 per pupil increase in the levy was not set in stone, and that number could change before the ballot vote.