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Survey will test residents' opinions on possible school levy

The Farmington School District is starting to put some more concrete numbers to the bond and levy requests it has discussed bringing to voters in November.

School board members spent most of their meeting Monday agreeing on numbers the district will use in a survey either later this month or early in June to gauge what kind of tax increase residents are willing to support. What they came up with is a three-piece package that could cost the owner of a $225,000 home — slightly above the district average — about $335 per year in new taxes.

That package includes a $40 million bond to pay for building maintenance projects and $10 million for technology upgrades. It also includes an operating levy that would bring in an additional $400 per student each year for the next 10 years — about $42 million in all. All three together would raise about $92 million over the next decade.

Much of that money would go to projects not immediately visible to district residents, which some board members worried could create challenges. Residents are likely to complain about the scoreboard that doesn’t work at the varsity baseball field, but not necessarily the district’s telephone system or paving projects at district schools.

Finance director Jane Houska recommended the district test the $40 million building bond because it will take care of the district’s maintenance needs for the next 10 years. It will address a list of projects that includes leaking middle school gym roofs and security improvements that would require visitors to go through a controlled access point before entering a school.

Similarly, the additional $1 million per year in technology funding would not pay for the iPads the district has made a classroom focus in recent years, but the technology infrastructure that supports them. It’s the kind of things technology director Andrew Baldwin described as wires in walls and blinking lights in closets.

It’s work he said is important, but not always visible.

“It’s an opportunity to really do some planning,” Baldwin said.

The money would also replace some outdated projectors and interactive whiteboards.

The final piece of the district’s puzzle is also the one that depends most on outside forces. The district can make its best guess at how much difference a $400-per-pupil operating levy will make, but it won’t know for sure until the state legislature makes a decision on school funding.

If state funding doesn’t increase at a faster rate than it has in recent years, Houska estimates even a $400-per-pupil increase will leave the district facing $800,000 in budget cuts for the 2018-19 school year.

Superintendent Jay Haugen was more optimistic.

“$400 is the level my guts tell me we can do some good things,” he said.

That uncertainty about state funding is why the district will wait until after the legislature’s decision to conduct its survey. It will use the results of that survey to choose the final numbers that will go on the November ballot — or whether to go to voters at all.

Nathan Hansen

Nathan Hansen has been a reporter and editor with the Farmington Independent and the Rosemount Town Pages since 1997. He is very tall.

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