On November 2, Cook County Schools ISD166 will ask residents to support an operating levy that will bring the district an average of $377,000 in each of the next five years. ISD166 is not alone – 75 Minnesota school districts will be asking their voters for operating levy support as well.
According to the Minnesota School Boards Association this is the highest number of districts seeking an operating level since 2007, when the number was 101. And many of the 75 districts are renewing or increasing their levy. Of the 337 school districts in the state, 303 already have an operating levy.
The levy referendum would authorize ISD166 to increase its general fund revenue by $650 per pupil unit for five years. By comparison the Franconia district is asking its voters to add $1,700 per pupil unit for each of the next five years, Greenbush-Middle River is asking for $1,400 per pupil unit for 10 years.
Milaca, where local cross country runners recently met is asking for $500 for five years. Gridiron opponent Ogilvie is looking for $600 per pupil unity for five years.
An operating levy increase is meant to maintain the district at current levels. ISD166 has already cut thousands of dollars from its budget to attempt to offset declining enrollment revenues and state aid payments set aside by the governor in order to help balance the state’s budget deficit.
If the referendum fails, the district will have to make further cuts to programs, staff and curriculum. If they are unable to accomplish that, and slide into statutory operating debt, they will have three years to present a recovery plan to the state’s Department of Education. If their recovery plan is not accepted, the education department could take over control of the district, though that has rarely happened.
A final public information meeting on the levy will be held at the Arrowhead Center for the Arts, 6:30 to 8 p.m. Monday, Oct. 11. A public meeting will also be held by levy referendum opponents at 7 p.m., Tuesday, Oct. 12 at the Senior Center. WTIP will host a live call-in school board candidate forum 6 to 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Oct 7, where candidates will also address the referendum, among other issues.