As we head deeper into the school year at Bemidji Area Schools, we are encouraged that we have been able to keep students in our school buildings. I remain grateful for our teachers, parents and students for working hard and embracing the necessary precautions during this pandemic. The district continues to stay in regular contact with county and state health officials for guidance and updates.

We are making decisions about our learning models based on the best public health advice and data available. We remain vigilant because we know that COVID-19 doesn’t have an expiration date.

Looking ahead, I will keep you informed about any actions we take in response to the virus. In that same spirit, I thought it would be a good time to provide more information about the local school operating levy that is on the Nov. 3 ballot.

In recent years, Bemidji Area Schools has wrestled with a variety of financial challenges as we strive to provide the best, most-comprehensive education for our students. Transportation costs are rising, and there’s a growing need for programs that provide special education services as well as support for cultural awareness and education.

Like all Minnesota public school districts, the majority of our funding comes from the state. Unfortunately, the state has not kept up with the rising costs of education and educational mandates. Meanwhile, our finances have been severely strained as we have worked to respond to the pandemic.

Newsletter signup for email alerts

The result is that we are facing a budget deficit and an erosion of cash reserves. To avoid making deeper budget cuts that would impact our ability to maintain current class sizes, student programs, technology and supplies, we are asking for local funding support through the operating referendum.

The school board decided to approach Bemidji area communities with an operating levy this November knowing that our budget issues cannot wait another year and because state law only allows operating levies to go to voters in November elections. Board members thought it would be best to give residents a choice on whether to make an additional investment in our school before making cuts to educational programming.

The school board proposal would revoke the current $180 per pupil levy and replace it with a $460 per pupil levy. The board determined that asking voters to revoke the current levy and replace it with an increased levy would prevent the need to return to voters to ask for another increase in a few short years when the $180 portion expires.

If voters approve this investment, the district will utilize this funding to support educational quality, including maintaining current class sizes and providing critical student support services. Additionally, we would be able to continue supporting the award-winning curricular and extracurricular programs our students enjoy, including band, orchestra, show choir, theatre and athletics activities.

If voters reject the levy increase, the district will be forced to cut educational programming, staff, and support services to avoid deficit spending. We will continue to push state lawmakers to recognize our challenges and provide more financial support.

For a home valued at $150,000, the monthly increase from the levy would be $5.61. You can determine the tax impact on your own property by visiting BemidjiBOLD.org, where you will find a customizable tax calculator.

This is a major decision for our residents, so I encourage you to visit the website to find out more about the district’s financial challenges and our plan for managing them. If you have any questions or suggestions, you can email me at tim_lutz@isd31.net or call (218) 333-3100.

If you haven’t already, please vote on or before Nov. 3.

Tim Lutz is superintendent of Bemidji Area Schools. He can be reached via email at tim_lutz@isd31.net.