BEMIDJI -- Although officials won’t finalize the numbers until December, the Bemidji Area School Board certified the tax levy limitation on Monday, which represents a drop from last year in the amount of taxes the district will collect from area property owners.
Chris Leinen, director of business services for the district, said student enrollment is one of the driving factors for school funding. In addition to the presentation on the levy information, he also provided the board with preliminary reports regarding how many students are enrolled in the district.
The board approved the upper limit to the levy in the amount of $10.639 million, which is a decrease of 3.6 percent over what was levied last year. Compared with last year, the district’s overall levy authority decreased by $892,000, although that number is somewhat misleading.
Leinen said last year’s levy authority included almost $500,000 in funding for Q-Comp, which refers to the Quality Compensation program. However, the district never actually levied those additional funds even though they were built into the tax levy authority.
In fact, Leinen said they never even intended to levy those additional funds. The district intended to pay for the program solely through state aid, but the state still gave the district the additional tax authority when the district applied for the program. So, the district simply levied an amount that was lower than the levy authority it was given.
The more accurate difference in levy authority from last year to this year is approximately $400,000, which Leinen attributed to two main changes.
One of the reasons for the drop in levy authority is that the district moved its early childhood students from the county buildings downtown to its own facility at Paul Bunyan Elementary, which was part of the shuffle among the schools caused by the Gene Dillon construction. Because of that, the district does not need to lease the space from the county, resulting in savings.
Another reason for the decrease in the levy limit is the bond payments that the district has. Although the district took on bond obligations for the new Gene Dillon Elementary, it also finished paying prior bond obligations for the high school. The difference between those bonds resulted in an overall decrease to the district’s debt.
While the board approved the levy limitation Tuesday, the levy won’t actually take effect for some time. Leinen explained that taxpayers won’t pay the levy amount until 2020, and that it won’t be marked as revenue for the school until fiscal year 2020-21.
Leinen also gave the School Board an early view of what the district’s enrollment looks like so far. The district will report its enrollment numbers to the state in October.
Leinen said he just calculated the enrollment using a core number of students, explaining that the enrollment numbers in the district’s alternative programs can be “volatile.”
Kindergarten through fifth grade has 66 fewer students than last year, which Leinen said likely could be a consequence of the new charter school in the district. Grades six through eight have 79 more students than last year, and grades nine through 12 have seven fewer students than this time last year.
Overall, he said enrollment is flat, which is consistent with what it has been throughout the last few years. Before that, there was a period of growth, Leinen said.