Editor's note: The following was submitted by the Osseo School District 279 School Board.
Last summer, your School Board voted unanimously to put two school funding requests on the November 6 ballot.
The first request is for additional operating income that will allow our schools to continue the progress they're making to increase student achievement. Additional income is needed because current funding can't sustain existing staff, programs and services that have led to better results.
The second request is for a technology levy that would provide more student access to 21st century learning tools, teacher training in the use of technology, and improvements to the technology infrastructure. Passage of this levy would help ensure that our students are better prepared for college and careers.
This is a challenging time to be asking property owners for more funding, and we did not make the decision lightly. Our decision came after six months of financial analysis and discussion; an independent survey to learn how our community views the proposals; and thoughtful deliberations that eventually resulted in our unanimous decision to put both questions on the ballot.
We’re extremely proud of the progress our schools have made over the past five years. At the same time, we realize we have more work to do to continue delivering strong results for students while containing costs.
Education is a people-intensive industry, so 80-85% of our costs are related to salaries and benefits. In order to comply with state labor laws, all of our employee contracts follow a negotiations process in which each party gains or concedes areas of interest, and neither party has total control. Working together, we have been able to contain some costs in important areas, such as benefits, saving money for employees and the school district.
We’ve made progress in other areas, too. Through belt-tightening measures, we’ve reduced expenses by nearly $6 million over the past five years, and we regularly collaborate with public and private partners to share the costs of programs and services.
There are some costs, though, that are outside of our control. State and federal mandates that are either underfunded or not funded at all have a significant impact on our finances. For example, in FY 2011 our general operating budget subsidized almost $22 million of special education services that were mandated but not funded.
Your school board has determined that the levy requests on the November 6 ballot are needed to continue progress in increasing student achievement, improving college/career readiness, increasing on-time graduation, and providing students access to 21st century learning tools.
If the operating levy fails, we will need to reduce approximately $14 million over the next two years, cutting about 200 staff and reducing programs and services. It will be increasingly difficult for our teachers to continue delivering strong results if they don’t have the resources they need to help students who are struggling and to accelerate high performing students. If the technology levy fails, our schools will be unable to provide students with the technology they need to remain competitive.
We hope you’ll take time to learn more about the requests by reviewing the information mailed to your home and visiting the levy section of the district website, www.district279.org.
Dean Henke, Chair
Kim Green, Vice Chair
Teresa Lunt, Clerk
Jim Burgett, Treasurer
Laura Cottington, Director
Tammie Epley, Director