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R-P School Board seeks continuity in prepareation for referendum

Fri, Aug 21st, 2009
Posted in Education

At the Monday, August 17th meeting, the board diligently sought to find a clear, collective strategy in the goal for a new or improved operating levy referendum. The current levy, which was adopted in 2002 in the amount of $840 per pupil, is set to expire June 30th, 2012. At the time it was passed, there was no option for an inflationary clause, a measure that would have provided much needed revenue to the district.

The Rushford-Peterson district is currently facing several financial setbacks including a 27 percent withholding in state funding until July 1, 2010. This is coupled with the upcoming loss of flood and transportation funding totaling $158,000. While the district is not currently in Statutory Operating Debt, Superintendent Chuck Ehler was quick to note, "We wouldn't survive without the (2002) levy." In reference to the district's frequent budget savings he added, "Stringent measures take the heart out of what your doing, but we'll continue to turn those rocks over."

Statewide in Minnesota, 90.3 percent of districts will be receiving referendum revenue for the 2009-2010 school year. The average referendum revenue per pupil is $827. In comparison to other local districts of similar size, there are five districts which top Rushford-Peterson. The highest of these receives $1,388 per pupil. Schools such as Caledonia, Chatfield, and Kingsland all have new buildings, but have lower operating revenues ($726, $351, and $301 respectively). This prompted some questions as to why districts with new buildings can afford to have lower operating revenue.

Ehler noted the differences. In those cases, the school facility is far more efficient. He went on to explain that in the Rushford facility alone, heating costs easily reach $20,000 per month. Another key piece is that those districts not only have an operating levy, but a separate levy for their building. This is essentially, a "double whammy."

In an effort to "educate the public for our future" and "maintain positive perception," the board set forth a list of benefits of an increased levy amount. The most critical of these was to continue current high-level, educational processes, including retention of quality staff and maintaining optimal class ratios. Another obvious need is the maintenance of the aging Rushford school facility. However, several board members were quick to add that the levy goes into the general fund for operational expenditures and cannot be used for a new building.

An analysis of a potential tax impact for the referendum levy shows the following:

NOTE: These are potential tax impact only. The law requires the mailing of tax impact statements to all district property owners prior to the November 3rd vote. All estimates are an annual net change to property tax, based on the increase increment above the current $840 per pupil. Agricultural property will pay taxes for the proposed referendum based only on the value of the house, garage, and one acre. Seasonal recreational residential property will pay no additional taxes.

The referendum will need a simple majority vote for passage. If adopted, the funds would become available for the 2011 fiscal year.

Stressing that the board not "look at it lightly," Ehler suggested that a decision on what will be on the November 3rd ballot be held off just long enough for the board to take additional time to decipher the information set before them. Still, he called the measure, "The right thing to do for our current situation." If it fails now, the district would have one more year to appeal to voters, but time is clearly of the essence.

There will be a special board meeting Monday, August 31st in reference to the operating levy referendum. It will be held at 6:30 pm in the high school biology room. The meeting is open to the public and all are encouraged to attend.

Bonding Committee:

Legislative Tour

District has been chosen to be a part of a Senate Capital Investment Committee Bonding tour this fall. It is a critical visit for the district who has long been seeking out options for a new school initiative.

Administration and board members will host the tour Wednesday, September 2, 2009. They will begin at the Rushford-Peterson Middle School in Peterson from 10:00-10:15 for a brief walk through of the facility. They will then travel to Rushford and begin their tour of the elementary/high school building at 10:30, concluding at 11:15AM.

While this may seem a relatively short time with the delegation, Superintendent Ehler noted that the district had asked for the visit several times and is "thankful that they're coming at all." It is possible that the tour may be extended based on the delegation's findings.

A recent article in a regional newspaper, intending to highlight the school's plight in the new school goal, sounded "really positive," according to board member Beth Stanford. However, the article may have given the false impression that a new facility was a done deal. "That's simply not the case," stated Ehler. "There are no guarantees."

AYP Results

The Rushford-Peterson district did not meet the Adequate Yearly Progress standards and is in a "stage of corrective action by the Minnesota Board of Education."

While the elementary, middle, and high school all exceeded standards with 81 percent proficiency, a subgroup of approximately 40 students in special education did not. With the groups coupled together, the district tested collectively at 23 percent. The state average, which at a minimum must be met, is 30 percent.

A part of the No Child Left Behind Act, the AYP goal is to have 100 percent proficiency by all schools by 2014. Board member Dan Munson chimed in, "I'm not a math whiz, but it seems like it would be set up for failure."

Superintendent Ehler responded, "Obviously, there are flaws in how they calculate it." Agitated chuckles and words such as "convoluted" and "unrealistic" soon followed by board members. Ehler, also obviously frustrated, vowed, "The district will abide by it (the results and consequences) and use it as a measuring stick. We'll continue to make efforts."


The district received confirmation that Alternative Delivery of Specialized Instructional Services grant application was approved for this coming school year. The program will provide 68 percent funding for our two interventionist positions. Stimulus funds will be used to pay the remaining 32 percent and benefit costs. The two interventionists were hired from a potential eight candidates and are Margaret Marklowitz (Grades K-2) and Tracy Janke (Grades 3-5).

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