Back at an August 2 special meeting, the Greenbush-Middle River School Board approved two levy ballot questions for district residents to vote for on November 2. The first is to renew its expiring $506.05 per pupil levy and the second is to pass a levy $700 per pupil more than the expiring levy (equal to $1,206.05 per pupil), both set to run for six years.
Now, GMR Superintendent Larry Guggisberg posed this question at the August 16 board meeting, “How does the board desire to market, if you will, the election that’s coming up?”
The board approving to put these two questions on a ballot follows a string of denials by district residents at the ballot box in recent years. As review, on last year’s ballot, district residents had the chance to approve revoking its current $506.05 per pupil operating levy and replacing it with a $1,306.05 per pupil operating levy that would last ten years starting with taxes payable 2021. It would have increased with the rate of inflation and generated nearly $221,000 in additional revenue annually.
For a fourth straight election dating back to 2015, GMR residents denied the district of increased tax-generated funding. Last year’s operating levy failed with 864 (55.67%) “no” votes to 688 (44.53%) “yes” votes. That election, the district would have needed 89 people who voted “no” to vote “yes” to turn the outcome— one requiring a simple majority to pass.
Back to this year’s questions, the first one— the renewal— would generate approximately $125,298 annually, and the second one— the $700 additional one— would $164,636. So, if the district passed both questions, it would bring in just under $290,000 annually to the school district.
For background, the district faced a budget deficit amounting to $545,371 last school year and made just over $437,496 in cuts on March 29, 2021. A large portion of these cuts came via teacher staff— amounting to about 72 percent. The district is looking at a projected deficit of $219,325, according to its 2021-22 revised budget.
“What kinds of things should be done, can be done,” Guggisberg asked, “to spread the word about the election that is coming up on November 2?”
Board member Carrie Jo Howard asked if it would be beneficial to form a committee related to the election to work with Guggisberg.
Guggisberg responded that a committee was fine, but explained how the district can’t be marketing a “vote yes” message.
“If the committee is there to vote yes then I can come there to provide information, but I can’t be endorsing it,” Guggisberg said, “nor can I put it on the website because the school’s responsibility is to provide information. And that information then is used to decide for yourself, each voter’s self.”
Howard then asked if the district could have an informational committee. Guggisberg expressed being fine with this, adding how he would rely on board members to provide the list of names he should contact. He did add that the school website had much info about the levy ballot questions and that he planned on putting more on there. To learn more about the levy ballot questions, visit the school’s website (https://www.middleriver.k12.mn.us/) and click on the “November 2nd Operating Referendum” tab at the top of the home page.
Guggisberg believed another form of communication was just as critical as providing info on the website.
“Word of mouth is what’s going to have to happen. And you’re going to have to talk to people in coffee shops. You’re going to have to talk to people that are at the small group meetings,” Guggisberg said. “You may have to have a Zoom meeting. You may have to go out in different places, organizations and do a presentation, or I can do that. But, in a community like this, word of mouth is just as important as laying out that information on a school website.”
Board Chairperson Shane Kilen responded, “The school website is not enough… We got to have some meetings of some kind.”
Howard suggested that this committee develop a list of civic organization schedules and that board members could sign up to visit these civic organizations. Later in the meeting, Howard and board member Allison Harder volunteered to be on this committee as board representatives and also volunteered board member Brandon Kuznia— not present at this meeting— to be part of this committee.
“I talked to Brandon Kuznia today when he indicated he wouldn’t be able to attend the (August 16) meeting. And he said that if he hosts a meeting out at his shop with area farmers, would I be willing to come? (I said,) ‘Absolutely,’” Guggisberg said. “That’s a good way of spreading the message out and he’s the one that offered to do that and get that organized, so (I) appreciate that.”
The discussion to get the info out there comes as absentee balloting is set to begin on September 17. There is not a mail-in ballot option this year. At the board’s next meeting it will name four election judges at each of the voting sites: the Greenbush Community Center and Middle River Community Center.
To see the complete GMR School Board story, read the August 25 issue of The Tribune in print or online.