Kingsland officials outline referendum details


Kingsland Superintendent Jim Hecimovich outlines to a small crowd the upcoming Kingsland operating levy referendum set for the general election ballot on Nov. 6. GRETCHEN MENSINK LOVEJOY/SPRING VALLEY TRIBUNE
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GRETCHEN MENSINK LOVEJOY
SPRING VALLEY TRIBUNE

Approximately 20 people attended a public meeting at Kingsland Public Schools Tuesday, Oct. 16, to hear the tenets of a proposed operating referendum that will be on the general election ballot on Nov. 6. 

The Kingsland School Board and district officials outlined plans to seek taxpayers’ approval of an operating referendum levy that is meant to keep the district afloat and out of the state’s financial management system. The proposed $1,024 operating levy to replace the existing $428 referendum levy would also allow the district to offer more career education programs

Kingsland Superintendent Jim Hecimovich introduced the district’s intentions with the statement that in the 1950s, there probably wasn’t enough money to buy typewriters for every student in the business and typing classes, so the School Board likely went to the taxpayers to ask them to vote for an increase in the amount of per pupil unit support, or the amount above and beyond what the state contributes in aid to the district. That’s the case right now, he explained, as the district is unable to afford to maintain programming at the standard that would allow students to excel and remain competitive in the job market once they’ve graduated. 

“In 2010, the community gifted us an increase of $428. A textbook can cost $89, and now that we’re able to get textbooks online, they’re still $89,” said Hecimovich. “But you gave us that $428 and we brought Project Lead the Way (PLTW), our STEM curriculum, invested in one-to-one technology for our students, got more instructional time, and we brought in College in the Schools (CIS).  We had almost 12 to 14 students driving to Rochester to post-secondary education, and now we offer up to 40 college credits without the students ever leaving campus, and it’s not online — it’s taught by our teachers.  We thought that all-day, every day kindergarten was important even before it started at the state level.”   

Meeting attendees received printed information about the operating referendum proposal that outlined what is planned and why the school board feels it’s important to increase the amount of per pupil unit support.  An operating referendum levy is a procedure that allows school districts to raise additional funds to supplement regular state education funding, noted the handout.  Although state education funding provides for basic educational needs, it does not provide nor compensate for decreased enrollment, additional programs offered and cost of living increases.  An operating referendum can be used for instructional supplies, such as textbooks and paper, as well as curricular enhancements or new programming, to reduce class sizes, and for basic building maintenance and operational costs. 

The district’s general fund budget is approximately $6.2 million, which is used to educate 543 students with district employment at 55 full-time employees and 40 part-time employees.

Hecimovich referred to the district’s loss of buying power, which was shown on a chart he presented. Loss in state aid buying power from 2003 to 2019 showed that state aid for 309 Minnesota school districts did not keep up with inflation.  Kingsland, along with approximately 60 other districts, saw the greatest loss in buying power. 

An analysis by the North Star Policy Institute on the decline in inflation adjusted per pupil state operating aid across Minnesota showed that Kingsland’s decline was among the greatest in the entire state with a drop in state aid of nearly $3,000 from 2003 to 2014 based on fiscal year 2019 dollars.

Kingsland also ranks near the bottom in the current operating levy referendum among area districts. LeRoy-Ostrander’s per pupil operating referendum is $2,062, Southland’s is $2032, Glenville-Emmons’s is $2,030, Mabel-Canton’s is $1,937, Grand Meadow’s is $1,296, Chatfield’s is $1,200, Fillmore Central’s is $1,188, Kingsland’s is $852 — including the $428 in local operating revenue approved in 2010 plus the $424 local option revenue that districts can levy without voter approval — while Stewartville’s stands at $742, and Lyle’s is at $724. 

Kingsland is asking its district voters to revoke the existing $428 per pupil unit and replace it with a new $1,042 per pupil unit on Nov. 6.

“We’re too far away from Rochester to grow from Destination Medical Center (DMC),” said Hecimovich.  “Our enrollment has declined but is steady now.” 

Without the levy’s passage, Hecimovich stated, the district is at risk for statutory operating debt (SOD), or the condition in which the state takes control of the district’s finances and develops a plan to get the district out of debt.  The district has been in statutory operating debt in years past and was forced to cut teaching positions, reduce class offerings and programming and increase class sizes. 

The information distributed to the voters highlighted that the loss of buying power combined with decreased enrollment will exhaust the district’s current fund balance by the 2020-2021 school year, place the district in SOD, increase class sizes and reduce programming offered at both the elementary and secondary schools. 

Hecimovich shared that the district has identified its trades and certified career education programs as a focus for the increased per pupil unit operating funding, pointing out that while many students aspire to attend a two-year or four-year college — a need that the district has met through its CIS class offerings — it has not yet met the needs of students who are planning on entering trades or certified careers such as construction, welding, agriculture or parts of the health field such as medical and dental services. 

“We’ll generate about $350,000 extra per year, and we’re hoping to use that for career education,” said Hecimovich. “Sixty percent of all jobs are high-skilled trades or certified careers.  Only 30 percent of jobs require that students go to college.  Not every student needs to go to college — some of those who do fail out and might have been better off not to spend that, and be stuck with student debt.” 

He related that the district has had the benefit of a tech education and construction instructor who has made it his mission to teach students various skills that are immediately useful after graduation if they choose careers in construction or other skilled trades — without the expense of attending a two-year or four-year institution. 

“These are high-paying jobs.  I think it’s important to make an investment in these students,” he said. “The wounds of 1992 and consolidation need to be buried and the district needs to come together so we can take care of the kids who may not be interested in college.”

The financial impact of voting in favor of the increased operating referendum levy is estimated at $150.51 per year on a $100,000 home, or approximately $12.54 per month.  The state of Minnesota provides some state aid to offset costs. Also, agricultural property beyond the dwelling, or a home, garage and one acre of land is exempt from this levy for an operating levy referendum as are seasonal recreational properties. 

Financial impact information has been made available at https://levyinfo.com/LevyInfo/ISD2137_2018_2.php.  A referendum calculator is available at the Kingsland Public Schools website, https://www.kingsland.k12.mn.us/page.4483.

After an attendee remarked that she and her husband hadn’t heard about the public meeting until their daughter had told them earlier that same day, Hecimovich said he had hoped for more people in the gallery and announced another informational meeting would be held before the election on Monday, Oct. 29, at 7 p.m.  He provided his own contact information for taxpayers and voters to e-mail him at Hecimovich.james@kingsland2137.org, or by phone at 507-696-8612. The Kingsland website is at www.kingsland.k12.mn.us.  

Another informational session on levy set for Monday, Oct. 29

A second public informational meeting on Kingsland’s proposed operating levy referendum will be held on Monday, Oct. 29, at 7 p.m. in the cafeteria at the school in Spring Valley.

District officials will go over some frequently asked questions, explaining this type of levy, the impact on education, the district’s budget, the tax impact and more details.