Lakeville School Board unanimously authorizes operating levy question

The Lakeville Area School Board unanimously passed a resolution July 9 asking voters to approve a new 10-year, $5.6 million operating levy in a special election Nov. 5.

Voters will be asked one question on the ballot after the board rejected an option to seek additional funding with a second question aimed at restoring some of the programs cut in recent years.

During workshops, board members expressed concerns that a second question could jeopardize the odds of the first question – intended to help maintain operations – from passing.

Board members also agreed to use 20 of the district’s 22 polling locations on election day and rejected an option to consolidate precincts to nine polling locations for the special election.

Board Member Jim Skelly advocated for the district to open most of the district’s polling locations used in general elections to reduce potential voter confusion and increase participation levels.

Skelly said in previous special elections, the district consolidated polling locations to save resources, but the change confused some voters who went to the wrong location, became frustrated and gave up before casting a vote.

It has been about a decade since Lakeville Area School District voters have passed a levy for new money, and the district has made significant cuts to programs like arts, fifth-grade band and industrial technology offerings at the high schools.

Class sizes have swelled in all grades, causing concerns and prompting some students to enroll in neighboring districts.

Despite the challenges, Superintendent Lisa Snyder has worked to establish a “culture of innovation,” and school staff have responded with new ideas, including Impact Academy, a cost-neutral program to be offered at Orchard Lake Elementary that groups students by skill level and connects learning to real-world problems to incorporate service learning into the curriculum.

The district has also applied to become the first public school in the metro to offer a full-time online learning option, “Link12.”

Snyder has said the option could provide personalized learning for all students, and may draw homeschoolers and those enrolled out of the district back to Lakeville schools.

The district has also worked to reduce costs and improve efficiencies. The board recently led an effort to change contract benefits to help control and predict costs and end big retirement payouts.

If voters approve the district’s levy request, it would generate $5.6 million in new funds annually for 10 years and increase property taxes by $169 annually for the average $230,000 home, according to the district.

Like previous levies, the amount would automatically increase for inflation.

The funding would add to the district’s total aid and levy referendum revenue currently in place that is expected to generate approximately $6 million in 2014, according to district estimates.

Based on board priorities, new levy dollars generated would be used to stabilize the budget, maintain programs and introduce science, math, technology and engineering opportunities.

The district would also reduce class sizes in core content areas for grades 3-5, beginning in the 2014-15 school year.