Buoyed by survey results that show 68 percent of district residents would support it, the Ellsworth School Board last week voted unanimously to go to a referendum vote April 5 to seek permission to …
Buoyed by survey results that show 68 percent of district residents would support it, the Ellsworth School Board last week voted unanimously to go to a referendum vote April 5 to seek permission to levy an additional $1.3 million annually to meet operating expenses.
The board seeks permission to exceed state-imposed property tax levy limits each four years. The previous operating tax levy was for $1 million, and that resolution closes at the end of this school year. With voter approval, the new resolution to exceed the revenue limit will run through the 2025-2026 school year “for non-recurring purposes consisting of maintaining educational programming, technology and facilities,” the resolution passed at the Jan. 10 meeting states.
The board has held numerous planning sessions to get the ball rolling toward this spring’s referendum vote since early 2020.
“The board has been studying this a really long time with the idea of coming to the referendum of $1.3 million a year for four years at the April election,” said Su-
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perintendent Barry Cain. “Remember that our current non-recurring levy override of $1 million was for four years. One thing I always like to highlight on this resolution is that it’s non-recurring. That’s something we explain to the public a lot, too, because people don’t know what that is. That just simply means there’s a set limit of the time on this. A recurring resolution, which we do not do, is the idea that if approved by the voters, that amount of money would be for infinity. It just goes and goes and goes. There are districts that do that, Prescott being the closest.”
Even with the increase in the levy limit, Cain said the district will still have to use some of its fund balance to help cover the budget expenses the next four years.
“We somewhat unexpectedly have been able to increase our fund balance as a district up to about 27 percent (of the annual budget amount). We’ve felt comfortable with staying above that 20 percent level,” said Cain. “This does use a certain level of fund balance through the course of the four years. Obviously, the first two years we have a better feel for how much that is until the next biennium state budget is passed, but there is some level of fund balance being used.”
With passage of the referendum, Cain said district property valuation models show it won’t increase the district property tax rate.
“Taxes do not increase with this $1.3 million a year for four years above and beyond the 2021-22 actual levy and mill rate projection. That’s another message we need to obviously get out the public,” he said.
The district plans a newsletter to district households to explain the referendum resolution. The district will also plan information sessions with board members on hand to explain and take questions on the referendum plan.
The board voted on the order of Ellsworth School Board candidates on the April 5 ballot. There are five candidates running for three open board seats. School Board President Doug Peterson is not seeking re-election.
Board member Katie Feuerhelm picked the names out of a container to set the ballot order.
Ballot order will be: Susan Beck (incumbent) Douglas Graf Donald Eaves III Julie Lundstrom (incumbent) Michael Petersen The new candidates were invited to the meeting to witness the drawing, and Petersen was the only to attend.
“I love the community. The board and the staff have done a great job. We’ve had the opportunity to have a lot of programs offered to our kids,” he said. “We’ve been extremely pleased with the Ellsworth School District. The board is doing a great job. I’d would like to participate in that.”
Cain thanked all the candidates for stepping forward to run for office, with a special thanks to Peterson for his years of service.
“Twelve years on the board is a wonderful thing to see,” he said.