School board lays out 3-part plan to address district funding


Photo by Morgan Delaney

The school board held their regular meeting on April 22. During this time they covered the standard reports of information, and they held a work session to further debate the next steps towards a levy referendum this fall.

Morgan Delaney, Online Editor

The school board has created a plan to renew an expiring operating levy. However, when needing more money to go towards levies, the board must ask the taxpayers to vote. They are given an opportunity to raise their taxes to support the district, or they can vote to not fund the levy, but this is a majority vote and will affect everyone in the district.

The current operating levy that funds the district is expiring and needs to be renewed, or the district will lose around $12 million of funding for the schools. The school board has devised a three part plan to address finances and facilities within the district.

“The levy that is expiring, is an eight year term. We’re going to have to ask the community to either renew it at the same level that we have right now, or we can make the case to the community that in the intervening eight years, since they last said yes to it, that we now have greater needs. And so we may ask them to give us a larger annual operating levy,” School Board Chair Beverly Petrie said.

The plan addresses three separate parts including a lease levy to fund the expansion of Brookview Elementary. The district has expanded, while surrounding districts are losing many students. Brookview Elementary has become overcrowded due to the increase of students.

“We ask the community to say yes or no on levies and bonds, but we also have some ability to be able to levy on our own. That’s what the lease levy is all about; we have the ability to do that on our own without asking the public, and frankly, it is a necessary thing,” Petrie explained.

However, this elementary school was constructed in 2016 and has caused a lot of controversy surrounding the way taxpayers’ money is being used. This issue may affect the way taxpayers vote and trust the school board’s decisions.

“Districts provide neutral information and do not promote a specific election outcome. The school board works with the superintendent and other district leaders to decide on the levy amount and determine how those funds would be invested. We then work together as a team to create the messages to share with our community. We create a variety of informational materials to share with voters prior to an election,” Director of Communications Carissa Keister said.

Secondly, the board will be having a levy referendum, or vote, in November 2021 to renew the expiring levy. The board also wants to either expand the operating levy currently in place, or they would like to add a technology/capital projects levy. District 834 is one of the few in Washington County that do not have a technology levy for their schools.

“Technology has just become part of the fabric of our daily lives, and Stillwater has been paying for all of our technology needs for instruction out of our general fund. Whereas, all these other districts have a dedicated fund that pays just for technology. It was one of the reasons why when we had the pandemic this year that we were a little disadvantaged compared to some of the other districts that had a lot more technology resources at their disposal. So, they were able to make distance learning work well, and we did not have all those resources at our disposal, because we don’t have a technology levy,” Petrie said.

Finally, the board is debating whether or not to hold a bond referendum in spring 2022. The bond would be responsible for funding the reconstruction of Lake Elmo Elementary which is an old building in much need of a tear down or remodel.

“When you sell bonds, which is what we’re asking the community to support, those bonds pay for the construction of buildings, or the remodeling of buildings. If you have a big project to remodel a building, you would probably go with the bond for that,” Petrie explained.

The school board has a lot of important decisions to make prior to the levy referendum. Petrie explained that the board has not “settled upon a term for the new levy.”

The current levy is eight years and they “can be up to 10 years long,” but Petrie believes “it’s hard to know what the needs of the district are going to be 10 years into the future.”

Under estimating the amount of funding needed for the schools would cause them to fall far behind in terms of educational funding.