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School board appears ready to ask for levy renewal

By Tom Larson

Sun Tribune

Morris Area School District voters could be asked this fall or in 2010 to renew an operating levy that expires after the 2011-2012 school year.

The district School Board discussed the issue at its meeting Monday at the Morris City Council chambers. The question isn't whether to ask for the renewal but when.

The district currently levies residents for almost $687 per student. Voters in 2005 approved a 10-year levy of $385 per student, but a total of about $302 will be expiring in two years. If at least that much isn't renewed, the district can expect a "break in revenue" of more than $262,000, said Superintendent Scott Monson.

The board also noted that requesting the levy only renews what taxpayers are paying now. A yes vote on a levy doesn't mean a tax increase unless the board asks voters to approve a measure for additional money over the $302 that will expire.

The district can bring the issue to voters this November or wait until November 2010. But if the district waits until the 2010 election, it will be in dire straits if the measure doesn't pass with voters.

"It's just prudent to give ourselves two chances at it," said board member Lory Lemke, echoing Monson's recommendation that the district would have time to make changes for a second appeal to voters if a measure failed in November 2009. Monson also noted that research he has seen indicates that levy votes have a better chance of passing in off-year elections.

However, board members Kurt Gartland and Mark McNally said they would prefer ramping up voter education, preparing a solid argument and setting up for a one-time vote. Both said that didn't mean waiting until 2010 to put a measure on the ballot.

The board is expected to discuss the levy issue at its July 20 meeting. A resolution authorizing a levy vote is needed before Sept. 15 if the district intends to put it on the Nov. 2009 ballot.

In other district business:

• The board approved a 2009-2010 budget and a deficit of between $52,000 and $57,000. The district is currently waiting word if its insurance premium will be reduced by $5,000.

The district's projected General Fund revenues are $8,182,479. Expenditures are projected at $8,240,383.

In addition, the board voted to freeze Monson's salary and health insurance contribution at its 2008-2009 levels for the upcoming year, and also voted to freeze wages and salaries for support staff directors and supervisors.