It’s been two months since Central School District hired a new superintendent, Tim Schochenmaier, and he and the school board have made the big decision to go out for a special election for two levies. The first is an operating levy referendum, and the other is a capitol project levy. Each would have a different effect on the school, but both are importantm, officials said.

The school board met on Aug. 21 to begin discussions after Schochenmaier mapped out the budget for the next three years. The reason the meeting had to take place so quickly is the board needed to submit the paperwork and proposal by Aug. 23, so Schochenmaier wanted the board to go over all the options before having to submit things. At the time, nothing had been decided as to what to do with the budget.

“Over the last six years, our revenues have steadily grown, and the growth is generally due to the 1 percent increase or 2 percent increase from the state,” he said. “Generally our expenditures have been in line with that.”

At its height, state aid covered 33.7 percent of Central’s budget in 2015. Now, it’s covering a little less than half of that at 15.48 percent. The change is from a few different factors, but the main ones are inflation and the special education budget as well as low per-student revenues. In Central’s case, they haven’t gone to vote for a referendum since 2003, which is when the previous one expired.

For the end of 2019, the school was projected to have $1.8 million in the fund balance according to Schochenmaier, gaining about $226,000. Instead, the projections now show a $442,000 deficit, a $700,000 loss. The previous superintendent, Brian Cortlett, cited the loss of 40 students as to why this drop occurred. In order to maintain the standards of the school, no budget cuts were proposed for this year.

With this in mind, Schochenmaier then laid out what would happen for the next three years if no budget cuts were proposed. While the numbers weren’t exact, they’d be in the right range, according to his calculations. If there were no cuts for 2020 and 2021, the district would experience a deficit of $1.5 million over those years, totaling $750,000 per year in deficit.

Schochenmaier wasn’t the only one who saw this, either. He called in a few business officers from other districts to confirm the numbers that he was projecting, and confirm they did, which is why he and the board decided to put together an election question. Or in this case, two.

The first of these is an operating levy, which is what people typically think of when they hear about a referendum. This levy would affect property taxes, and agriculture taxes would be the homestead plus one acre. This means that large farms, say 200 acres, wouldn’t be paying extra taxes on 199 acres, just one. This levy would bring the revenue per student up to $640 per pupil for the next 10 years.

Operating levies affect all operations. Class rooms, activities, lunch, office hours, teacher’s salaries, and more. Pretty much everything that isn’t the physical building or the grounds is affected in an operating levy is what’s affected.

The second question is what’s known as a capitol project levy, but “don’t be confused because it’s called a levy,” said Schochenmaier. “It runs a little more like a bond.”

What this means is it affects all the property in the district, businesses and agriculture alike. As such, it has sort of the opposite effect as the operating levy.

“One way to look at it is school districts and municipalities have different ways to raise revenues and they try to do it in a way that doesn’t tax one group more than another group,” said Schochenmaier.

The project levy would be exclusively for upgrading tech in the school, bringing in an extra $350,000 per year just for technology needs. This would include things like adding more smartboards to classrooms, have Chromebooks available for the younger students, and generally making technical upgrades to the labs in the schools, though mainly Schochenmaier plans on focusing on the middle school and elementary as the high school students already have one-to-one Chromebooks of their own.

“We do a student survey every year, and the thing we hear the most is lack of technical education,” he said. “We’re hoping to tackle that here.”

As for numbers, the tax impact on an average home of $175,000 would be $16.99 per month. And while this seems dramatic, Schochenmaier pointed out that not only has inflation had an impact, the taxes have slowly gone down in the area.

“What I think is the most important for people to know is what we’re really doing is returning to our tax revenue that we had in 2012,” he said. “That’s really all we’re doing.”

The election will feature two questions, and while one only one could be approved to lessen the impact, Schochenmaier emphasized that for no cuts, both would have to be approved by the voters in the district.

“It would lessen the deficit, but we would still have one,” he said.

What this means for Central District voters is not only will there be four school board seats open this November, there will be two questions relating to school revenue as well. Schochenmaier himself stated that he would be happy to answer any questions regarding the levies, whether over email or in person. He can be reached at tschochenmaier@central.k12.mn.us for any questions regarding the upcoming vote.

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