On Sept. 21, Forest Lake Area School Board members discussed in detail spending priorities should voters approve a per pupil levy increase in a special election Nov. 7 The district is proposing a two-question referendum that would revoke the existing operating referendum revenue authorization of $461.67 per student and replace it with $1,211.67 per student. The other question would authorize $9 million in bonding authority for athletic field and arts facility improvements.
The bond request was scrutinized by Department of Education Commissioner Brenda Casselius and her team based on a series of criteria including geographic area and population, a list of existing school facilities, a list of specific deficiencies, a thorough description of the project, and a specification of the source of project funding. Casselius ultimately gave the project her stamp of approval.
Should the bonding measure pass, the high school would see tennis court upgrades in the amount of $425,000, site improvements at $740,000, track upgrades for $1.59 million music area upgrades at $700,000, $400,000 worth of auditorium equipment, stadium field upgrades in the amount of $895,000 and stadium improvements worth $1.8 million. Century Junior High would see field improvements at $275,000 and a scoreboard replacement at $60,000, and Southwest Junior High would see ball field upgrades at $450,000 and other field improvements at $260,000. Additional funds in the amount of $1.41 million would be spent on fees, permits, testing, contingency, and bond issuance.
“This gives us help when we are out in the community so we can tell people exactly what we’re looking at as far as how the money will be spent,” Board Member Karen Morehead said.
Regarding the operating referendum request, board members outlined priorities at a Sept. 21 meeting. Should the measure pass, school officials are confident that all priorities will be attended to. One of the priorities is to reduce class size with an emphasis on early elementary grades.
“That is a critical one because we struggle every year as the parents get in there and realize that these class sizes have been growing over the years,” Board President Rob Raphael said. “It is a critical reason why we need to get this levy passed.”
Board members also discussed funding a restoration of classroom instructional resources that were reduced through previous cuts.
“This is really important because we have cut and cut and cut, and I think that parents that are new to our district and also parents that have been around forever need to know that we are going to be working to restore this and that it is one of our priorities, especially when we have been cutting as much and as frequently as we have,” Board Member Gail Theisen said.
Other priorities include efforts to attract and maintain the best teachers and staff; enhanced support for struggling students; expanded gifted and accelerated programming; enhanced education opportunities in the areas of music, career and tech programs, elective courses, and college-level courses; and enhanced financial stability in an effort to reduce future budget reductions.
“I am glad to see these priorities,” Theisen said. “I think it is important for the board to have follow through and accountability and transparency and I think having these and laying them out there just brings all that together.”
One other measure of note at the Sept, 21 meeting was an announcement by Business Director Larry Martini that school property taxes for district residents will be down 5.2 percent. Martini shared an news from the Minnesota Department of Education that indicated the 2016 payable 2017 school property taxes came out to approximately $23.2 million and the 2017 payable 2018 property taxes came out to approximately $22 million. That provides district residents a $1.2 million reduction in school property taxes.
“Given this 5 percent reduction in school property taxes and a rising tax base, many of our residents and businesses will see a 7 to 8 percent reduction in the school tax portion of their proposed property tax bills when the counties mail them out this November,” Martini said. “We will remain one of the lowest-taxing school districts in the metropolitan area.”