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District's 2011 budget approved, levy issues up next

By Tom Larson

Sun Tribune

The Morris Area School District will have a small budget surplus to work with in 2011, but still is working out details of an operational levy request it hopes will help the district maintain it.

The district School Board this week approved a preliminary budget that shows a General Fund surplus of $26,293.

The district was expecting a deficit after budgeting for a 4 percent decrease in state funding. However, the Legislature and Gov. Tim Pawlenty reached a budget agreement this spring that called for no decrease in the school funding formula.

Revenues for 2011 are estimated at $8,536,358 and expenditures are expected to be $8,509,065, according to district Superintendent Scott Monson.

While the flat funding proves to be a good thing in the short term, it's long-term school funding issues that have district's planning cautiously.

"We'll see what happens in the future," Monson said. "There are challenging times ahead but we'll work our way through those."

The district has two per-pupil levies totalling $686. A $385 per student levy, which expires in 2016, was approved in a November 2005 referendum, and a levy totalling $301 per student is what remains from the November 2000 referendum.

But the $301 passed in 2000 expires in November 2010. The district stands to lose about $280,000 in revenue in the 2011-2012 school year if voters reject renewing it.

"Obviously, we can't afford to lose almost $300,000 in (2011-2012)," Monson said.

According to current budget numbers, even if voters approve renewing the $301 per student levy, their tax bills would not increase over what they have been paying, but the district would be short revenue in 2012 of about $16,000 compared to 2011 estimates.

The School Board currently is thinking about what to do in terms of a renewal or a renewal plus tacking on additional money to the request. No vote has been taken and Monson said the board could meet in a special meeting to finalize its plan.

The district has an Aug. 10 deadline to submit its request to place a levy question on the November general election ballot, he said.