by Mike Knaak
Sartell-St. Stephen school districts voters approved an operating levy in a special election on Nov. 5 that will raise $1.77 million for 10 years.
There were 3,047 yes votes and 2,276 no votes – a 57 percent approval.
A similar measure failed a year ago with 60 percent of voters rejecting the levy when more than 8,000 ballots were cast during the general election. When voters approved a new high school in a May 2016 special election, 4,315 votes were cast.
The operational levy is part of a multi-year strategic plan that includes funding the new high school, remodeling the old high school to serve as a middle school, converting the current middle school for grades three through five and reconfiguring the grades in the two elementary buildings starting next fall.
The approved levy will support operating a total of six buildings (including the District Service Center) when the old high school-to-middle school remodeling is complete next year. Operations expenses include custodians, food service, heating/cooling and maintenance. The new high school is just short of 300,000 square feet. It costs about $3.50-$4 per square foot to operate a building. The added cost because of an additional building is between $1 million and $1.2 million annually.
The levy money will also support pre-K through grade 12 academic programming and extra-curricular programming as well as helping the district hit their class-size targets.
The approved levy will add $74.30 for each $100,000 of a property’s taxable market value. For example, the owners of a $250,000 home will pay an additional $185.75 in property taxes. Operating levies do not tax agricultural land.
Sartell-St. Stephen was one of 41 Minnesota school districts seeking operating levies, while 35 sought approval of bonds to pay for capital building projects for new schools or improvements to existing buildings.
The Sauk Rapids-Rice district voters approved a $37.13-million bond to build a new Pleasantview Elementary School with 3,054 yes votes and 1,222 no votes.