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School Board discusses referendum process

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Bemidji, 56619
Bemidji Pioneer
(218) 333-9819 customer support
Bemidji Minnesota P.O. Box 455 56619

After holding two public forums last month addressing the possibility of an operating referendum this fall, the Bemidji School Board met Monday night to discuss its next steps.

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"We need to talk about the next steps in the referendum process," Superintendent Jim Hess said at the work session.

At the public forums in March, Chris Leinen, director of business services, outlined the school funding trends in Minnesota and the status of the Bemidji School District's current operating levy, which voters approved in a 2003 referendum.

The current five-year operating levy is generating $501 per resident pupil each year, Leinen said. The school district first started receiving these dollars in fiscal year 2004-05, making fiscal year 2008-09 the last year it would receive these dollars.

The forums also provided the public the opportunity to give input on the current levy and a potential future referendum.

On Monday night, Hess asked the board members if they felt more forums should be held.

"I don't feel we've heard enough," board chairman John Pugleasa responded.

The board members discussed what they thought worked well at the forums in March -- including the PowerPoint presentation, small group discussion and the chance for people to ask questions and get information.

"I thought we had good input," board member Carol L. Johnson added. "People weren't afraid to share -- positive and negative."

The board also discussed how it can improve on the forums.

Board member Ann Long Voelkner suggested the board, when communicating with the public, be very clear about what items the Legislature is proposing and why the school district needs referendum dollars.

Also, she added, "We need to try to reach more parents and community members."

Board member Steven H. Johnson suggested setting up presentations during the meetings of organizations such as school PTO groups and booster clubs.

The board members discussed holding sessions in which they and administrators could visit school and community organizations to provide them with information and seek their input. Hess noted that the board could also continue to hold public forums.

Meanwhile, Leinen presented several sample ballot questions provided by the Minnesota Department of Education.

He also provided the board with a referendum timeline. Among other requirements, he said the board would have to adopt in mid-September a resolution calling for referendum election this November.

He also suggested the board discuss how many years a new operating levy should last.

"It just seems to me that five years is too short," Leinen said.

He said he prefers a longer levy timeline because it would provide more predictability. The maximum, he said, is 10 years.

"Ten years in my mind is way too long," Long Voelkner said.

While five years is short, she said, a short time period may give the school district more flexibility to meet changing needs.

On April 9, Long Voelkner noted, board members and school district administrators will meet with members of the former Vote Yes Committee from the 2003 referendum to discuss what worked well then and what changes could be made to the current referendum process.

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