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Bemidji School District to seek renewal of $501-per-pupil operating levy in November election

BEMIDJI – Area voters will be asked this November to renew an operating levy for the Bemidji School District.

Renewal of the $501-per-pupil levy will be put before voters in the Nov. 6 general election. The Bemidji school board voted unanimously Monday to authorize the levy question.

If voters vote in favor of the levy in November, it would mark the third time voters supported the operating levy.

“We appreciate, as a school district, the support the community has given us,” said Ann Long Voelkner, chairwoman of the school board. “Everyone truly appreciates that support.”

The levy has funded all-day, every-day kindergarten, new buses and has helped keep class sizes down.

Approval of the levy would not increase property taxes; the current levy level is not proposed to increase.

Failure to approve the levy also would not immediately decrease property taxes. The current levy is set to expire after taxes are paid in 2013. In theory, the district could opt to ask voters in 2013 to renew the levy, if the levy fails this fall.

Voters this fall are being asked to renew the operating levy for an additional seven years, through 2020.

John Pugleasa, school board member, said he was pleased with that timeframe as it puts the levy question before the public in general election years, when voters go to their regular polling locations.

Chris Leinen, director of business services for the district, agreed, noting that the district must fund special elections when they are held.

“The other advantage to that is elections cost money,” he said.

A third benefit, Leinen said, is that the levy would expire after the district repays the bonds that funded the construction of Bemidji High School and Lincoln Elementary School.

“It will allow for continuity and a better focus on the needs of the school district,” he said.

Long Voelkner said a five-year timeframe might seem like a long time, but it isn’t that long for those who rally behind and campaign on behalf of the levy question.

“This is the beginning of a lot of work,” she said.