There seems to be a lot of talk about referendums this year and part of the reason for that is because there are actually two different referendum proposals being discussed by the Hancock school board. The first referendum, which will be on the ballot on Nov. 6, is a current referendum that will expire in 2012. This referendum, first approved by voters in 2002, was for $800 per pupil unit.
The initial reason for this referendum was for operating expenses. Because state funding for education is based on a per student formula, declining enrollment resulted in less revenue and deficit funding for the district. Enrollment has been on a steady increase in the district. However, for several years the revenue did not increase because the legislature froze payment increases.
Each year, auditors for the district recommend maintaining a 25 percent fund balance which is needed to cash flow the district. The referendum revenue from the two operating levies is critical to allow the district to maintain a healthy fund balance. In recent years the district has been able to maintain this balance despite the challenges thrown at them by the state.
State funding of education has seen some dramatic changes in recent years through tax shifts and delayed payments. School districts have had to be creative in meeting these challenges and paying bills each month while waiting for the state funds to come in. The Hancock School board members feel that renewal of the $800 referendum is key to maintaining this fund balance and will prevent the district from borrowing funds to pay bills.
Renewal of this referendum will not result in an increase in taxes to property owners since this referendum is already on tax statements.
The second referendum is for the proposed construction project. This will be presented to voters through a special election on Dec. 18. At this time, voters will be asked to approve this additional referendum for a multitude of projects at the school. This will include, but not be limited to, construction of six new classrooms, total renovation of the 1920 high school building and repairs and renovation in the 1960 classroom addition. This project is estimated to cost $5.4 million and will help alleviate the growing need for classrooms but also provide some badly needed structural repairs and renovations. This project will be featured next week with drawings and tables that were presented and approved by the Minnesota Department of Education.
The public will have an opportunity to ask questions and make comments on both of these referendums. For the first referendum, the public is invited to the Oct. 15 school board meeting, which will start at 6 p.m., during which there will be a time for questions. Information will also be sent out in the mail, published in the newspaper and available at the school for both referendums. A public meeting date will be set later for the second referendum.