Owatonna School district voters will see two funding questions on the November 3 ballot after the school board on Monday unanimously approved the move "citing the need to maintain quality programs and services as the top priority for the community's children." Read the full news release here. The board is calling their action "a shared approach, because it combines budget cuts on the district side with a request for an operating levy increase on the community side."

The first question "asks for a simple renewal of the district's existing operating levy which is about to expire. Operating levies provide critical funding for classrooms, instruction and other operating costs." The news release states that the average homeowner would see about a 50-cent increase per month in 2021 to continue the current operating levy.

The second question asks for a "phased-in increase to the district's operating levy in 2022 and 2025. By phasing in the increase over time, it also phases in the tax impact with no tax increase until 2022. The additional revenue provided if question two is approved would enable the district to maintain quality programming and activities, appropriate class sizes and career-technical education programs, while providing financial stability for the next decade."

The information from the board indicates a tax increase of about $10 per month on the average priced home of $175,000 beginning in 2022. The first question must pass for the second one to pass.

School board president Mark Sebring stated, "We are very conscious of both the financial needs we have as a school district and the financial challenges that COVID-19 has placed on our community. The solution that combines budget cuts with a phased-in levy allows us to partner with out residents, and keep both our schools and our community strong."

The board noted several points in their decision

  • "State funding is not keeping pace with inflation or increasing educational costs."
  • "Required academic and support programs cost the district nearly $7 million more than it receives each year from the state and federal governments."
  • The district will lose $2.5 million if the first question doesn't pass, "requiring cuts to programs and services."
  • Compared to other school districts in the Big Nine, Owatonna ranks in the bottom third with its voter-approved operating levy.

Superintendent Jeff Elstad added, "Schools are an important past of our community fabric, and educating our kids is our number one priority. Last fall our community supported building a new high school by approving bonds. These two requests are to maintain and increase the separate funding stream that operates all schools, and will benefit every school and every student."