School Board draws closer to finalizing levy

By: 
Patrick Fisher, pfisher@newpraguetimes.com

The New Prague School Board is drawing closer to finalizing a proposed voter levy request. At the school board’s Monday, Aug. 8, work session the consensus of the board was to have the levy in two questions and for it to be over a six year period.

At past meetings the school board has been discussing an operating levy referendum with it possibly to be part of the general election this November.

At those previous meetings it was noted the referendum excludes the majority of agriculture property, with the owner of the agricultural property only having to pay on their house, a garage and one acre of land.

New Prague has a current referendum amount of $247 per pupil and is not adjusted for inflation. It generates approximately $1,131,336 based on 4,586 estimated pupils in 2022-23. The average home, valued at $300,000 pays approximately $130. It expires at the end of fiscal year 2024, with the last tax year payable in 2023.

The final day the school board can call for an election on the referendum is Friday, Aug. 26. C

ompared to other school districts, New Prague is much lower. Sartell-St. Stephen has one at $460 and Northfield has one of the highest at $1,850. For local districts New Prague is still low as Prior Lake has a referendum of $624, Shakopee has one at $1,266 and Lakeville’s is at $1,444.

At the August 8 meeting the board was asked if it wanted to go with one or two questions. One question would be whether to have an operating levy and the second would be whether to have a technical levy for equipment. The questions would be separate and not contingent on each other.

Business Services/Human Resources Director Sandy Linn presented the information. She noted if no levy questions were presented or residents voted it down there would have to be a very significant adjustment to the New Prague School District’s budget. Proposed operating levy increases ran from $250 to $500, which would require a significant to moderate adjustment to the district’s budget. The estimated monthly tax impact to a $300,000 house would range from $11.33 to $34.61, depending on which levy was chosen.

“We’ve been talking about it for a while and there is a need. We have to decide on it, but at a financial grade that we know people will support,” said Superintendent Tim Dittberner. He noted they do need feedback from residents on it. He cautioned that the less revenue the school district has the more cuts they will have to make to the budget.

Board member Leo Giesen said from residents he’s talked to he’s heard that some feel the district is overstaffed, mainly at the administrative level.

Chair Tammy Pexa asked if they could go with one question or could they combine the two.

Linn said she talked with the school district’s attorney and they can’t combine the two.

Board member Kim Holden suggested they have two questions.

Pexa said the district has kept it’s budget conservative over the years and they’ve managed their funds well. In talking with other people from other school districts she’s found those districts are usually going for bigger levies. “I don’t want to have people in New Prague thinking that,” she said. Pexa thought people in the district would support a technical levy, but it would be a hard sell if the district were to do an increase of around $400. Giesen said an issue is that some people who wouldn’t be able to afford the higher monthly tax impact.

Dittberner said they have to choose the right number for residents, but they will still be making cuts to the district’s budget, although he wanted to stay out of budgets for the classrooms. Giesen asked how would it affect the arts and sports programs. Dittberner said those were areas they can look at. A lesson from the COVID pandemic was that students needed to be in school and supported. Dittberner said he didn’t want to put a lot of burden on the tax payers.

The board’s consensus was to have two questions with the levy to be over six years. Dittberner will be discussing the levy numbers with the board members individually and make a recommendation for the proposed levy numbers by Monday, Aug. 15.

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