NEW ULM — In hopes of putting a bandage on a bleeding budget, the New Ulm School Board unanimously voted Thursday night to ask the community to pass a $575 per-pupil operating levy during the November election.
“In a way, it strikes me as not a good year to be running a referendum, but we’ve been bleeding for so long and the cuts have been so horrendous,” said board member Susan Nierengarten. “And if we go another year we’re going to go beyond bleeding; we’re going to be hemorrhaging. We’ve got to try and do better by our kids.”
The dollar amount was debated heavily, beginning with $450 per pupil, which board members agreed would be more likely to pass than the amount that actually is needed. About $725 per pupil is needed, but that amount was rejected last year.
But community members, including mother of three Tracie Vranich, told the board she and other concerned parents would launch a community campaign to rally support for the referendum.
“In talking to people, I’m optimistic that there is some momentum to pass this,” Vranich said.
Supt. Harold Remme said even if the $575 per pupil levy is voted through, the district still likely would need to make cuts next year.
Taxes on a $140,000 home would go up less than $170 per year if the referendum passes, Remme estimated. The levy would result in an additional $1.3 million for the district.
Nierengarten said the district will need to work hard the next several months to convince the community the levy is needed. Board member Duane Winter agreed.
“It doesn’t matter what number we put, it’s going to be a lot of work to get it passed,” Winter said.
Remme said the board doesn’t take the decision lightly and had community impact in mind when weighing the decision.
“Times are still tough economically,” Remme said. “But a strong school makes for a strong community.”
The levy decision follows years of budget turmoil, including the most recent $1.1 million in cuts last spring and about $3 million over the past three years.
The board also voted unanimously Thursday night to reject all three bids, ranging from $25,000 to $100,000, for the sale of the District Administration Center due to various contingencies written into the bids.
Remme said that doesn’t mean the sale won’t eventually happen. He said the district will work with Eagle Development, the $100,000 bidder, to try to put together a purchase agreement “that will be satisfactory to both us and them.”
Currently the district offices are housed in the former middle school, which was closed in 2006 due to facility and maintenance issues.
Any proceeds from the building go into a dedicated fund for district construction and building maintenance needs and cannot be used for daily operations.