Levy referendum would lessen, not eliminate cuts in District 196, officials say

The Rosemount-Apple Valley-Eagan School District may face budget cuts in two years even if voters pass a $30 million levy referendum this fall, officials say.

Although the levy increase would cover an estimated $30 million shortfall in the next two years, the district will likely face an estimated $10 million to $12 million in cuts during the 2015-16 school year, said Jeff Solomon, finance director for District 196.

The district will be asking voters this fall to revoke its existing levy and replace it with a 10-year, $1,486 per pupil levy.

This would result in a $375 per pupil increase from the current operating levy, which brings in $20 million annually. The existing levy is set to expire in 2015.

If passed, homeowners would see an estimated $184 increase per year in the school district’s portion of taxes on an average-valued home of $225,000.

“We know (the levy) won’t solve everything but it will provide needed funding,” said Superintendent Jane Berenz at the Aug. 19 School Board meeting.

Officials plan to make $4 million adjustments to maintenance and operations costs in 2014-15 regardless of the levy vote outcome.

These include reducing the district’s contribution to employee health insurance and increasing third-party billing for special education.

District officials also plan to eliminate its K-Plus scholarship program in 2014-15 since the state plans to fully fund all-day kindergarten programs.

“These aren’t cuts, it’s creating efficiencies,” Berenz said.

Increased state funding enabled the district to avoid cuts to the 2013-14 budget.

The district’s financial picture will be more dire without the levy referendum, officials say.

If the proposed levy fails, the district could face $6 million in budget cuts in 2014-15, which could include cuts to curricular and co-curricular programs, including the gifted and talented program, increased co-curricular fees, and the elimination of fifth-grade band. Class sizes would also likely grow, officials say.

These cuts are in addition to the $4 million in adjustments the district already plans to make.

District 196 would face another $20 million in adjustments in 2015-16, which is equivalent to approximately 300 teaching positions.

“I have been busy sharing with residents how important their vote is on the levy referendum,” Berenz said.

District 196 made $34 million in cuts between 2009 and 2012 after a 2010 levy referendum failed.

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