One Minn. school district asks voters for smaller levy on fall ballotby Tim Post, Minnesota Public Radio
ST. PAUL, Minn. — Of the 40 Minnesota school districts asking taxpayers to vote on school levies this fall, the request from the small district of Frazee-Vergas is glaring.
It's the only district that is requesting a reduction in its school operating levy, something that no one can recall ever happening in Minnesota.
Over 90 percent of Minnesota school districts ask property tax payers for additional money, beyond that provided by the state.
In the Frazee-Vergas Public Schools district, about 200 miles northwest of the Twin Cities, that has meant an additional $1,000 per student annually over the last five years.
That levy has nearly run its course and next month another referendum will be on the ballot.
This time the district is asking for a lower levy of $700 per student annually for the next five years, according to Superintendent Chuck Cheney.
"I'm not sure we know of anyone else that's ever suggested that they decrease their levy," Cheney said.
The levy's tax burden on a $100,000 property would go from $224 a year to $149. But it would also mean less for the district, about $200,000 less.
Cheney said even though the larger levy passed five years ago it was evident many taxpayers were unhappy about it.
"Across the state and across the country, there's a message out there: is it possible for public entities to operate with less funds?" Cheney said. "And if possible, let's try to make that work."
Another quirk is that because Frazee-Vergas appears to be first district to try such a move, there is no ballot language in Minnesota law to represent a decrease in a school levy request.
"As a result after working with the secretary of state's office and others, we find that unfortunately our ballot is going to have to list this as a tax increase," Cheney said.
Cheney worries some voters will be scared off by the statement, "This will increase your taxes" next to the ballot spot where voters mark "yes" or "no."
The Minnesota School Boards Association plans to ask lawmakers next session to include language to better reflect a levy decrease.
"This is definitely one of those where it certainly makes sense to have some sort of language on there when someone reduces their per pupil amount," said Greg Abbott, spokesperson for the MSBA.
Even so, Abbott does not expect many school districts to follow in the steps of Frazee-Vergas. K-12 funding from the state has been stagnant in recent years, and districts rely heavily on the funding they get from levy referendums.
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- All Things Considered, 10/16/2012, 5:51 p.m.