Greenbush-Middle River Superintendent Larry Guggisberg said he got some laughs about a comment he made while speaking to a group of people about the upcoming two-question levy ballot at a public meeting from the Greenbush Fire Department on September 13.
“I got a good laugh out of the fire department. Families are smaller. I come from a family of seven brothers and sisters. There is no family of seven brothers and sisters in your school district or one family,” GMR Superintendent Larry Guggisberg said, then referring to a large local family. “And I say at the top, there’s no such thing as a Hector Reese family. There’s no such thing as half of the Hector Reese family.”
According to a fact sheet provided by the district, the school’s enrollment sat at 480 during the 07-08 school year. According to the latest enrollment numbers, the district’s enrollment sits at 226— about a 53 percent decrease since 07-08.
This represented just one of several election topics Superintendent Guggisberg highlighted at the GMR School Board’s September 20 meeting. During the meeting, the board also highlighted some of the outreach efforts taking place related to the upcoming levy votes on November 2.
As far as outreach already in place, board member Allison Harder highlighted the following efforts: informational newspaper articles, GMR website information, the Ehler’s Tax Calculator, weekly radio show, community presentations, and community member outreach.
As for continuing efforts, Harder highlighted a staff and student calling tree, question and answer information, a social media plan with question and answer information that was launching the day after the board meeting, outreach to former GMR students, weekly community informational meetings, community presentations and outreach, and an additional informational mailing.
Board member Carrie Jo Howard encouraged her fellow board members to take a particular action.
“One thing I would like to encourage you as board members, Mr. Guggisberg sent out a graphic that listed several community organizations who we can contact about meeting with them,” Howard said. “Sometime this week, individually, please refer back to that… I’d like to challenge all of you to go to that and to reach out to one of those community organizations.”
She explained her reasoning for this challenge.
“There’s so much false information out there,” Howard said, “that we really have to work hard to dispel a lot of it.”
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.
As Guggisberg said, ballot question one is a no-brainer. He highlighted how $125,000 at minimum would have to be reduced from the budget if question number one fails. Also, if ballot question number one fails, ballot question two seeking the additional revenue would be cancelled out.
With this first question, the renewal of the $506.05 per pupil levy, individuals will actually be paying less than what they have been paying on the original, expiring levy. Guggisberg explained how the buying power of a levy changes from the first year it runs to the last.
Due to declining enrollment and annual inflationary costs, budget reductions are still likely even if ballot question number one passes. If both questions pass, the district has some “cushion room” to operate but will still keep the reductions it has put in place.
“This next election is an opportunity for voters,” Guggisberg said, “to determine what the next chapter is in the story for their school.”
If both questions fail, the district will have to do budget reductions and will experience a cash flow issue in the spring. The district would be faced with two options to address this cash flow issue.
One involves getting aid anticipation certificates, where the district is borrowing next year’s aid from the state of Minnesota to pay for this year’s bills. The other option is to go to a local bank and ask for a line of credit, an option coming with an interest expense.
“You’ll have to get these aid anticipation certificates and you’ll have to get a line of credit just to keep your doors open,” Guggisberg said. “And more than likely, you’ll end up into what’s called statutory operating debt (SOD). The state of Minnesota Department of Education (MDE) does not want you to be in SOD and they will come to you and say you need to fix this.”
MDE would give the district some ideas, but it would be on the school to fix it.
“More than likely the fixes are run a referendum (and) do some budget cuts. There’s no magic bullet to getting more money,” Guggisberg said. “And if it continues… your worst of worst case scenario is you can’t do what you want to do or you can’t run your school the way you want to run it.”
The district would then have to look at consolidation. He mentioned how the district has an athletic co-op with the school to the north, referring to Badger.
“But I don’t know if they want you,” Guggisberg said.
Guggisberg highlighted how consolidation leads to that district taking on the taxes of its new district. The Badger School District’s voter approved referendum authority sits at $1,170 per pupil. GMR’s current authority sits at $506 per pupil, but the increased referendum authority would increase it to $1,206 per pupil.
Dissolution is the last, the worst case scenario Guggisberg said.
“You dissolve, which by the way, doesn’t happen very much—I can only remember two in my superintendent career,” Guggisberg said “… It’s a voluntarily thing.”
If the district dissolves, district taxpayers are paying whatever taxes of the district they land in, plus the debt that the district is left with.
“You’re going to pay school taxes somewhere,” Guggisberg said. “And even if you do your own referendum, vote yes on one and two, you’re going to be paying less taxes, if you had worst case scenarios.”
Howard commented on this issue as well.
“The one thing that I hear over and over again, is, ‘Well, if we don’t have a school district, we won’t have to pay tax,’ and as Mr. Guggisberg has very eloquently shown this evening, you’re going to pay school tax, no matter where you live,” Howard said. “And right now, we’re kind of the best deal in the area, so you’re better off paying school tax here, if that’s your only concern is how much tax you’re paying.”
To see the complete story, read the September 29 issue of The Tribune in print or online.