What happened to the money from the operating levy? I hear this at just about every stop I make to discuss the bond election. I have heard it so often I came back from a recent meeting and got a few folks together and asked the question myself: “What happened to the levy dollars and why are we now making budget reductions?
I also went back to do a little research and study the literature from the 2013 election, which focused on three goals for the levy funding. Here is what we were told at that time.
- Financial stability.
In 2013, we had an annual shortfall of $4-6 million each year. Funding from the state of Minnesota was basically flat at the same time we had annual increased costs for transportation, special education, to settle employee contracts, etc. New levy funding was needed to “address the annual shortfall and reduce future reductions.” Notice this did not say eliminate future reductions. Today, two years later, we continue to spend more than we receive in revenue. This does not lead to stability.
- Bridge to Excellence.
New funds were needed to invest in the district’s strategic plan, which was adopted in the spring of 2013. Many folks supported the referendum because it offered change. Since the levy was approved, art was added to our elementary curriculum. Instructional coaches were added to assist in the improvement of classroom instruction. We provided a 2-to-1 technology initiative to give more students access to devices in our elementary schools. We’ve adopted learning targets and created common assessments. We’ve purchased leveled readers for elementary schools and much more.
- Security updates at all schools.
We invested a good deal of money into providing controlled access in our school buildings to maintain safety in our schools.
It does not take very long to see where the levy money went. It continues to be spent to maintain the quality of a very good school district that has been living well beyond its means. The operating levy is being spent as was promised. The bond supports that work by providing our students with appropriate places to learn. We are making progress, but there is still more work ahead.