Bemidji School District Discusses Operating Referendum Options
The Bemidj Area School Board held a special school board meeting to discuss their options with moving forward in another operating referendum.
In 2020, the district’s referendum did not pass, with more than half of voters voting no. Since then, the district has made cuts in school programs as well as closing Central Elementary with hopes of maintaining the district’s budget. With a failed referendum, lack of state legislature funds, one-time funding, increasing class sizes, and cuts to teaching and support staff positions, the district is facing an estimated shortfall of $2.5 million per year.
To get public feedback on how the district should move forward in maintaining their budget, the district sent out a survey to families and stakeholders, which included several questions in regards to the district’s operations. But one topic in the survey that the district has focused on is the need for another operating referendum.
In 2014, Bemidji Area Schools voters approved a $180-per pupil, 10-year operating levy to support the district’s operations. However, due to increased expenses and other factors, the district has seen a significant budget shortfall in recent years.
The district has presented three tax increase options, surveying which option voters would support:
- Option 1: An operating levy that provides $2 million per year ($360 per student) for the next ten years, requiring the district to continue to make reductions every year.
- Option 2: An operating levy that provides $2.5 million per year ($460 per student) for the next ten years, allowing the district to maintain current level of programs and services
- Option 3: An operating levy that provides $3.1 million per year ($560 per student) for the next ten years, allowing the district to explore reinstating some of the reductions that have been made.
According to survey results, 59% of residents who took the survey advised the district to explore another operating levy. In addition, results showed that the district would be successful in going for an operating referendum that falls under option 2. However, some school board members noted during the meeting that under this option, cuts in the future would still have to be made.
It’ll cost the district about $50,000 to go out for a operating referendum this year. But with survey results showing that the district would be successful with option 2, Superintendent Tim Lutz said, “I really believe the community has spoken and has shown us that they support Bemidji Area Schools. I am grateful for that support.”