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Sartell-St. Stephen, Foley, Upsala succeed; Sauk Rapids-Rice, Rocori, Royalton fail in school operating levy election results

Sartell-St. Stephen, Foley, Upsala succeed; Sauk Rapids-Rice, Rocori, Royalton fail in school operating levy election results Click to Enlarge Photo:

Nov 9, 2011 at 12:05 am

ST. CLOUD, Minn. (KNSI) - For school administrators in several central Minnesota districts, Tuesday's message from the ballot box was exactly what they didn't want to hear -- figure out a way to settle your budgets without any additional help from residents.

Voters in the St. Cloud region rejected ballot questions in five of the eight attempts by area school districts Tuesday to raise their school tax levies or collected bond money for other infrastructure needs. Boosts to levy collections were voted down by residents in the Sauk Rapids-Rice, Rocori, Royalton, Albany and Milaca school districts.

Meanwhile, voters passed fee increases in the Sartell-St. Stephens and Upsala districts. Two of three questions aimed at raising funds passed in the Foley school district and proposals to maintain current taxation levels passed with voters in the Princeton and Melrose districts.

In Sauk Rapids-Rice, a plan to raise $944,000 a year over the next decade to maintain programs and services failed by a 46-54 margin -- 1,861 votes for to 2,206 against. Another question which would have raised another $728,000 a year for five years earmarked for student technology needs also failed 43 percent to 57 percent. That measure could only have succeeded with the passage of the first question.

Among Minnesota's 340 school districts, Sauk Rapids-Rice is one of only 36 that has no voter-approved tax increases in its budget. The last attempt to raise the tax burden on district voters before Tuesday also failed back in 2007.

"The district can not continue to offer the number and quality of courses that they currently offer without some additional revenue...We're going to need to have that conversation about what needs to be eliminated and, without raising class sizes and raising fees et cetera, it's going to be really difficult without eliminating programs," Sauk Rapids-Rice superintendent Daniel Bittman said. "We're going to need to start those conversations early and often."

But the disappointment was not restricted to the Sauk Rapids-Rice district.

In the Rocori school district boundaries, voters not only rejected renewal of 2001 tax that would have raised $276,000 a year for the next decade, but also a plan to combine that tax with a 2007 levy that would have allowed the district to collect $1.1 million annually for the next 10 years. The 2001 renewal fell by a razor-thin 49-51 margin with 1,140 votes for and 1,188 votes against.

Royalton voters voted 402 to 605 against a bid to raise the district's operating levy by $532,000 a year over the next six years. Royalton had rejected three previous requests to raise school taxes.

In Albany, a plan to revamp a $715,000 a year tax running through 2013 and replace it with an expanded $1.2 million levy fell 912 to 1,026. Another question asking for $255,000 a year for building repairs and transportation needs also failed 42 percent to 58 percent.

And in Milaca, a bid to raise per pupil levy collections from $400 per student to $600 per student failed by just over 100 votes -- 1,213 to 1,105.

For Sartell-St. Stephen campuses, Tuesday was a time for celebration, however. Preliminary results show a move to expand the district's existing tax to collect $2.9 million over the next decade passed by a 1,818 to 1,579 vote. Meanwhile, a $9 million building referendum was also approved by voters, passing by a similar 1,823 to 1,572 vote margin.

"The results of tonight's election show a vote of affirmation of our staff, administration and programs," Sartell-St. Stephen superintendent Joe Hill said. "It is a vote of confidence and trust in how we have maximized our resources in the past. It is a vote of hope for our future and continued prosperity for our community."

Upsala schools will also see a boost to their bottom line. A 316-to-287 vote there means a $500 per student levy was revoked and will now be replaced with a $950 per student assessment.

In Foley, voters split, passing a renewal of the district's current $400,000 a year levy for the next seven years on a 911-453 vote. By just 15 votes, they also approved an additional $50 per student hike earmarked for the district's annual curriculum review process. That passed on a 687-672 vote. However, the district's attempt to raise $220,000 a year to expand from 3-day-a-week to 5-day-a-week kindergarten classes failed 824 to 530.

Princeton and Melrose only sought to maintain their current tax levels and both districts found success Tuesday. Princeton's current $325 per student levy passed by a 67 percent to 33 percent margin, while a $700 per student tax in Melrose will also remain following a 742-298 vote.

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