KENYON -- As opposed to the building bond referendum that the Kenyon-Wanamingo School District passed in 2017, the upcoming operating levy vote isn’t as exciting.
The only thing on the Nov. 5 ballot for Kenyon-Wanamingo voters, Superintendent Jeff Pesta called the operating levy vote “low key” and a “basic common sense kind of move.”
The district is asking voters to consider a two question referendum that will revoke and replace their current levy.
Currently, the district is operating with a levy of $295.68 per pupil. Question 1 asks the public to replace that amount with a $460 per pupil levy. Question 2 asks voters to consider $300 in additional per pupil funding, an amount the district has been missing out on since the state's inception of a $300 rule.
Pesta said the district in 2013 passed a seven-year operating levy, the levy the district currently operate under. The next year, Minnesota, in an equalization effort, gave school boards an option of adding $300 to their district’s operating levies that wouldn’t require a vote from the community, just the local school board.
Pesta said when that rule was put in effect, the district lost that $300 and won’t be able to take advantage of it unless their current levy is revoked and replaced. The district could wait for the current operating levy to expire in two years, but as Pesta says, why wait?
“So rather than wait the two years of this operating levy that is already $300 short and has been losing about 3% in purchasing value each year, do we ride that out for two years or do we go back to the taxpayers and say there’s a better deal on the table? Common sense says we should consider it,” Pesta said.
In simpler terms, Pesta compares it to a 401K: If your employer tells you to put in $1,000 into that account, and the company will match that amount, it makes fiscal sense. In Pesta’s mind, why would you not take the match when it’s a 100% return on your investment?
“Why wait two years when now that’s sitting on the table? Why would you wait two years if your employer was offering you a $1,000 match? Why would you say, I’ll think about it in two years? I think if you’re wise, you’d consider it right now.”
On an average home of $150,000, Pesta said Question 1 equals $46 per year in additional taxes. If the second question were to pass, the tax impact would be closer to an additional $75 per year.
The district is trying to be as fiscally responsible as possible, Pesta said. Refinancing the remaining debt for the 1998 building project, which saved $600,000 because of low bond rates; taking advantage of the Ag2School Tax Credit, which will pay for 42% of the current building project over the next three years; and adjusting the operating levy will help them thrive in the years to come.
“That’s three things that all have to do with timing,” Pesta said. “I could look like a genius for timing it out that way -- I didn’t create the timing. I’m just leveraging the timing.”
Pesta acknowledges how boring and dry operating levy discussions can be, comparing it to doing your taxes.
If the voting is unsuccessful on Nov. 5, Pesta said board members likely see the operating levy to the end. And if necessary, they’ll tighten their belts “to the point of losing circulation.”
Pesta said he hopes people understand how important this vote could be. They have a chance to have a fiscally responsible levy in place and for the district to take advantage of funding.
And of course, while this money won’t fund a new football field or classroom, it will keep the lights on.
“What they’re approving is the local share of paying teachers, turning the lights on, turning the heat on, picking their (children) up in a bus, it’s the operation,” Pesta said.
In the upcoming months, informational sessions will be available for K-W residents, along with resources on the district’s website.