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Levy Part I: District seeks to renew and increase operating levy

By Tom Larson

Sun Tribune

The Morris Area School District will place a levy request before voters on Nov. 2.

One district levy will expire after this year, and the district has been strapped by few increases in state funding over several years and recent payment delays that helped the state battle its own budget deficits.

The district has a variety of information available for the public about its referendum, and this is the first of four stories regarding the levy request that the Sun Tribune will be publish leading up to the Nov. 2 vote.

The district has two operating levies on its books, and a $302 per pupil levy approved in 2000 will expire in this school year.

The district is asking voters to essentially renew the $302 levy and increase it by about $198 per pupil, with inflation adjustments after the first year, for 10 years. Added to another operating levy of $385 per pupil approved in 2005, the district's levy total would be $885 per pupil.

According to Morris Area Superintendent Scott Monson, state aid has not kept pace with inflation. In the six years beginning in 2003, per-student funding has fallen 6 percent in the Morris Area district while costs have continued to increase.

The district receives $5,124 per pupil per year under the basic state funding formula. How much money that brings into the district is based on enrollment, and Morris Area's enrollment has been in decline for several years.

Other factors in play during the district's budget process are staff compensation increases, savings from retirements, annual utility expenses and miscellaneous expenses.

After 2011, the $302 levy comes off the books, and with state funding barely holding steady, the district could potentially face budget cuts even if the $302 is restored and another $198 added to it, Monson said.

Monson said that the district has cut it budgets by a total of $2.5 million since 1996, and that $1.8 million of that has been cut since 2003.

Most state districts are in the roughly the same situation, Monson said, noting that more than 90 percent of districts have requested that residents renew or approve new operating levies.