Battle over school levy and bond referendums heating up

Football isn’t the only game kicking off this fall. It’s also the season for schools to throw Hail Mary bonding and levy referendums in many districts, despite record state spending on K through 12 schools.

But a citizen watchdog has flagged Westonka School District’s game plan for putting a $25 million levy referendum and $93.4 million bonding referendum before voters in the western suburbs in November. It’s game time on the Minnetrista Governance Blog website.

The Westonka Bond Con continues. Most of the focus of the Westonka school district election coming up has been on the whopper $170 Million dollars ($93.4M bond plus 5% interest for 25 years) for a high school remodel (what the majority of the bond is allocated for). But, there’s another question, question #1, on the ballot asking voters to renew a soon to expire annual $2.575 million dollar capital projects levy.

First, it’s not just $2.575 million dollars. The levy is for ten years so the amount voters are considering is over TWENTY-FIVE MILLION DOLLARS, NOT 2.5M. Promotional info drumming up support for the measure takes great care to only focus on annual numbers, as the true cost of these bonds are rather alarming.

The strategy is to minimize the amounts and tax impact in hopes of lowering voter turnout. School district voters might actually show up if they knew they were going to be voting on close to TWO HUNDRED MILLION DOLLARS that could be hitting their taxes in 2024.

Westonka and other school districts cannot use taxpayer funding to campaign for the passage of ballot questions. Instead, some schools post informational websites that break down the rosy benefits of passing a measure and harsh realities of voting it down.

If the capital projects levy renewal fails, the district will not be able to maintain its current technology program. Without dedicated technology funding:

Technology staff would be reduced, causing teachers to spend more time troubleshooting issues and less time teaching.

Student device replacement would be delayed or phased out at some grade levels.

Infrastructure would not keep up with changing technologies.

Fewer tools, resources and support would be available to protect against, detect and respond to cybersecurity vulnerabilities and threats to student learning and district data.

The Westonka website provides a breakdown of the projected property tax increase for homeowners and businesses should voters pass the $93.4 million ballot question for homeowners, businesses and rental properties.

If the existing $25 million technology levy on the ballot also passes, the website indicates there would effectively be no impact on property taxes since homeowners and businesses already pay it.

Voters will be asked to renew an existing capital projects levy that will expire in December 2024. The district’s tax authority will remain the same as originally approved in 2014, so renewing the capital projects levy will not result in a new tax increase.

But there’s no corresponding table to show the projected tax decrease homeowners and businesses would receive if voters turn down the technology levy.

If the levy is NOT renewed it will absolutely result in a levy DECREASE. The expired levy would go away having been paid off. So how could there be no impact on taxes if it doesn’t go away? I’m confused.

How much of a tax decrease? A group of residents opposed to the referendum did the math.

Both sides in Westonka and other school districts seeking additional taxpayer funding this fall know they need to get out the word sooner rather than later. Early voting begins this week.