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LETTER: Why the big swings in voter-approved levies?

To the editor:

I read the article about Trevor Peterson (Alexandria School District business director) on why there was a 23 percent increase for school taxes in 2018. I can't dispute Mr. Peterson's statement that much of the increase was the result of a decrease in 2017 because I saw a 12.6 percent decrease in that year, and if that wouldn't have happened, no one would have noticed the increase in 2018.

What concerns me more are the huge changes between voter approved and other. For example, between 2012 and 2018, the voter approved taxes on my statement have gone down by 46 percent. The other has gone up 58 percent but the total tax bill for the school has gone up only 7 percent in that time period. I don't have an issue with a 7 percent increase over seven years, but I would like someone to explain the huge swings between voter approved and other. I've always thought that voter approved category was the two new schools (Woodland and Alexandria Area High School) that were approved in the last 10 years and unless one of those has been paid off lately, I don't know how the reduction in that category could happen. Looking forward to hearing the explanation.

Rod Johnson

Alexandria, MN

Editor's note: The newspaper contacted Trevor Peterson about this issue. Here is his response:

The question posed about the significant decrease in "voter approved levies" and corresponding increase in "other local levies" when comparing taxes payable in 2012 to 2018 is a great question and a prime example of how recent legislative changes have impacted public school district tax levies.

In 2013, the Legislature enacted changes to close the opportunity gap as many districts were struggling to pass voter-approved operating referendums. The gap between the 95th and 5th percentile of statewide referendum revenue was increasing at an alarming rate. Beginning in 2013, multiple measures were passed into law allowing local school boards more authority to levy for additional per-pupil revenue. These measures included up to $300 per pupil in board-authorized operating referendum revenue and up to $424 in board-authorized "local optional revenue."

These measures are mostly responsible for the shift in the Alexandria School District as a $390 per pupil voter-approved referendum authority was ultimately replaced with $724 per pupil board-authorized revenue during this time. Using round numbers when comparing taxes payable 2012 to 2018, roughly $1.8 million was decreased from "voter approved levies" and $3 million was increased to "other local levies" to account for this shift.

Additional legislation was later passed to increase revenue from a new program called long-term facilities maintenance which also falls under the "other local levies" category.

Finally, new or growing programs since 2012 such as alternative teacher compensation and school aged child care fall into the "other local levies" category as well.