Voters in the St. Michael-Albertville School District rejected the district’s request for a $7.9 million operating levy.
According to unofficial results from the St. Michael-Albertville School District website, the operating levy request failed with 2,533 “yes” votes and 3,458 voting “no.”
Results were posted around 10 p.m. Nov. 2 on the district’s website announcing that the vote for the operating levy with the question: “Shall the increase in the revenue proposed by the board of Independent School District No. 885 be approved?” had failed.
The Minnesota Secretary of State posted the results on its website Wednesday, Nov. 3, at 11:41 a.m. after receiving the results from the county. According to the Minnesota Secretary of State website, 5,993 people voted on the ballot question, with only 42.28% voting to approve the levy request.
Voter turnout was approximately 36%, according to Superintendent Ann-Marie Foucault. The district reports that 590 more people voted this year, compared to the 2017 special election.
“Transparency is very important to us,” Foucault said. “We put the results on our website immediately late Tuesday night as well as sent an email to parents and staff with the results. We didn’t receive the results until late Tuesday night and at the request of the Secretary of State, we emailed the results to Wright County early Wednesday morning for them to post on the Secretary of State website.”
Taxpayers were asked to support a 10-year, $7.9 million (or $1,195 per pupil) operating levy for the district to maintain class size, programs and activities. Owners of a home with an average value of $250,000 would have seen a monthly tax increase of $59 if the levy was approved.
The district asked voters to increase operating funds because COVID-19 disrupted revenue and created unforeseen expenses, causing $7 million in lost revenue.
At the same time, a demographic study done in 2020 showed there will be only 1-2% growth each year through 2021-2026. St. Michael-Albertville Schools is also one of the lowest-funded districts per-pupil revenue in the state, ranking 330 out of 330.
In 2020, the district cut $6 million in costs from the budget and laid off 70 staff members.
The School Board held a special meeting Monday, Nov. 8, (after press deadline) to canvass the results.
No later than 15 days after the school board certifies the results, the district must notify the Commissioner of Education of the results.
In the coming months, district staff and the Finance Advisory Committee will make recommendations to the School Board for budget reductions and next steps. These recommendations will be based on analysis of data including the independent audit, current and forecasted budgets, student enrollment, the recent demographic study and more.
The School District will then review data including the independent audit, current and forecasted budgets, student enrollment, the recent demographic study and more to determine the amount that needs to be cut to balance the FY2023 budget. Then they will work collaboratively with their administrative team and Finance Advisory Committee to determine recommendations to present to the school board for budget reductions.
Possible budget reductions include an increase in class sizes kindergarten to grade 12 with cuts of 60-70 additional staff, eliminating middle school activities and athletics, eliminating lower level/co-curricular high school athletics and activities and arts, eliminating high potential/advanced programming for kindergarten to 12th grade, eliminating intervention programming, expanding walk zone, deferring maintenance projects, pausing staff professional development.
The board will make the final decisions on budget reductions next spring
The FY2021-22 revised budget will be completed by the end of December. The school board will review the Finance Advisory Committee’s budget recommendations report for the FY2023 budget report at the school board meeting on March 14, 2022, to look at possible parameters and reductions to the budget.
“We remain deeply committed to our students and staff,” Foucault said. “The coming days and months will be difficult. But, we will persevere and face these challenges as a team.”
After the vote, Foucault stated that the atmosphere in the school was forlorn.
“There are lots of tears, frustration and sadness,” she said. “Our staff care deeply about our students and will continue to serve them well. However, with high-class sizes, doing more with less, and knowing significant cuts are on the horizon, many are deflated.”
In Foucault’s opinion, especially with the operating levy being rejected, the school district could be helped with a change in the state funding formula.
“STMA is near the bottom of school districts in the state in per-pupil revenue due to an unfair funding formula,” she said. “This is despite strong advocacy by the district and other stakeholders. We have been advocating for years with local legislators as well as state leaders but little has changed.”