Bemidji Area Schools sets tax levies

BEMIDJI--Bemidji Area Schools board members on Monday unanimously approved a $11.2 million set of property tax levies for next school year. The latest levy spread is $359,000--3.59 percent--higher than last year's, according to district documents...

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BEMIDJI-Bemidji Area Schools board members on Monday unanimously approved a $11.2 million set of property tax levies for next school year.

The latest levy spread is $359,000-3.59 percent-higher than last year's, according to district documents, but is about $752,000 less than the maximum allowed by the state (the school district routinely "under levies").

Money from those levies goes to building maintenance, community and early childhood education and paying off debt.

The district's levy for long-term facility maintenance increased the most this year. It's 31.5 percent higher than last year, and is expected to bring in $1.2 million for roof and parking lot projects, boiler and mechanical maintenance and so on. It's also one of the few the district maximized because the state chips in "equalization" money proportionate to the amount the district levies, which means setting the levy below the limit would leave state money on the table.

The maximum amount the district could have asked voters to pay was $11.98 million. Documents supplied at Monday's board meeting indicate that the district could have levied $490,000 for "Q Comp" staff development, but staff said their application to the Minnesota Department of Education for that program stipulated they'd only use state aid.


Last December, school board members certified a $10.84 million levy spread for this year, a figure that was 9.94 percent higher than the year before.

And in June, the board unanimously approved a budget for this school year that is more-or-less balanced after a handful of staffing cuts and additions in spring. The majority of the district's expected $70.4 million in revenue this school year comes from the state, and a budgeted $9.9 million comes from local property tax revenue, according to a "Truth in Taxation" meeting held immediately before the board's levy vote.

"It's a very fiscally conservative budget," Superintendent Jim Hess told the Pioneer, who noted the city and county governments' levies were set to increase more than the school district's. "We want to spend to meet the needs, not meet the wants."

Some levy figures are based on estimated enrollment, district staff wrote in a memo to board members, which means they can change once the district gets real-deal student counts.

The $15 million spent so far on Gene Dillon Elementary, a new school building that will house all the district's fourth- and fifth-graders next school year, is not part of the district's operating budget.

Joe Bowen is an award-winning reporter at the Duluth News Tribune. He covers schools and education across the Northland.

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