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Monticello School Board votes to place $6 million operating referendum on November ballot

The ISD 882 School Board unanimously approved a request to seek more local tax dollars to lower class sizes, build educational programs, increase capacity for social emotional learning, outdoor education, and career pathways, and to support staff members and students at its meeting Monday, August 17. If voters approve the request, all schools in the district would see increased funding to make education more equitable for all. 

Monticello School District will officially propose a $6,044,546 operating referendum to voters on November 3, 2020.

The school board’s decision to place the question on a ballot was driven by budget reductions the past three years and a forecast that calls for additional reductions well into the future. The levy would allow the district to hire additional counselors and social workers to address social and emotional needs as well as academic support, hire additional teachers to lower growing class sizes and expand offerings, improve student technology offerings, and hire more support positions to help lead and innovate in this new era of education.

School Board Chair Jill Hoffman said turning to the community is never an easy decision, and even more difficult in light of the ongoing pandemic. However, the desire to provide the level of services that Monticello students and families deserve pushed the board to put the referendum on the ballot this fall.

“We as a board have worked over the years to be good stewards of our finances, yet costs continue to rise and adequate funding is needed to best meet the needs of our students,” said Hoffman. “The Monticello School District is proud of what we offer students and we are concerned that we will not be able to provide the same level of offerings to our students should we not pass this levy. We will always do the very best we can for our students.  This levy passing will mean continuing to move forward in a positive direction, meeting and exceeding expectations of this community and our district.”

The district most recently offered and passed a referendum in 2015 when voters approved a capital bond for improving safety & security, enhancing learning environments, and increasing academic and activity opportunities. In the same referendum, voters also approved a levy increase from $576.30 to $775.00 per pupil for additional staffing for Eastview to accommodate preschool and kindergarten programming, additional technology support, and additional personnel for buildings and grounds. 

Since that time, and despite a business office that has received school finance awards for seven years running from the Minnesota Department of Education, the district has faced a funding shortfall due to several significant challenges. 

Shortly after the 2015 referendum was passed, the district was made aware by the State of Minnesota that ISD 882 would be facing an annual $800,000 budget shortfall due to a change in the state’s special education funding formula. That, combined with the growing state-wide gap in education funding, has put a significant dent into the district’s general fund during the past several years. Those realities have led to three consecutive years of reduced budgets in Monticello School District, with more to come if the district doesn’t find additional funding locally. 

“This is a district and a community that prides itself on being there for students,” said Superintendent Eric Olson. “Through countless conversations with community members, educators, board members, and more, I’ve been pleased to see continued support to push forward with the notion of doing what is best for our students.”

The district estimates that if the levy is approved, taxes on the average home ($250,000 value) would increase approximately $41 per month. The voter-approved funding would be used to support all students across the district. 

This funding would allow the district to advance several areas of programming that will help put ISD 882 on the map as a leader and innovator in the world of education. Highlights would include the opportunity to advance career pathway classes for high school students, to expand language offerings, to increase social emotional learning capacity to truly meet every kid where they are, and to put forth technology offerings that make equitable education a realistic outcome in an ever-changing world.

“I believe that we have an opportunity to take education to a new level in Monticello,” said Olson. “Receiving the funding to implement these programs would be a life-changing opportunity for our students in Monticello, and would help put Monticello on the map as a destination in education.”

ISD 882 will prepare informational materials and continue to hold community sessions to inform residents about the levy leading up to the vote on November 3.