Voters in the Forest Lake Area School District will decide Nov. 6 whether to grant an increase to the district’s operating budget.
If the annual $825 per-pupil increase passes, the district has said it will reduce class sizes, restore resources that were eliminated in prior budget cuts, attract and retain high-performing staff, and enhance support for struggling and gifted students.
If the levy request fails, the district will likely close an elementary school, pair existing elementary schools to have K-3 at one school and 4-6 in another, increase class sizes, and reduce or eliminate programs.
If the levy is approved, property taxes would increase by approximately 0.113 percent. For a hypothetical $250,000 property, that would mean an annual increase of $282.45, according to the district’s calculations.
Support for the levy in Scandia has materialized in the form of yard signs and letters to the editor. In one letter showing support for the levy referendum, conservative House Representative Bob Dettmer encouraged voters to “take a closer look” at the request before casting a vote.
Two Forest Lake High School students from Scandia, Rachel de Sobrino and Reed Nelson, worked with students and teachers to create a video about how budget cuts over the last several years have impacted the district.
Although a few critical voices have piped up at community meetings in Scandia, any opposition to the levy has remained mostly out of the public eye. The ask could be difficult for retirees or private-sector workers to approve when, despite economic growth, real wages have not increased for decades. According to an August report from Pew Research, today’s average wage has the same purchasing power it did 40 years ago. Recent economic gains have mostly benefited the highest tier of earners.
District officials maintain that funding from the state has not kept pace with inflation for decades. Moreover, the district has not had a local levy increase since 2006.
To account for the disparity, the district has cut $5.5 million from operating costs in the last three years, including teachers, supplies, support services and other resources.
In April 2018, for example, the district made several cuts to save $1.7 million, eliminating bus routes and increasing fees for activities, instrument rental and parking. Several staff positions were cut, from a parking guard at $28,000 to an assistant principal position at $150,000. The equivalent of 7.6 full-time teaching positions were cut, saving $380,000. In May, the school board voted to close Central Montessori Elementary to save another $300,000, bringing total cuts to $2 million.
This article has been changed from the original version, which stated that Rep. Bob Dettmer's letter to the editor did not overtly support the referendum request.