Triton officials push for levy referendum
With less than a month until voters in the Triton School District head to the polls to vote on a levy proposal, Superintendent Craig Schlichting has been busy meeting with organizations and groups as well as individuals to get the message out why the district needs the levy.
Voters will decide on Nov. 5 whether or not they will give the school district authorization to raise its referendum revenue authorization by $750 per pupil.
The reason the district needs the additional revenue, Schlichting said, is because the state is not funding public education at a level that is keeping up with inflation.
“People are starting to understand the state is not doing enough to fund the schools,” he said. “Our school taxes (Triton) are some of the lowest in the area,” he added.
Schlichting said that in talking to residents he wants to explain the reasons for the levy vote but he also wants to listen to their concerns and answer their questions.
“One thing I’ve been hearing,” he said, “is that people don’t want a canned presentation. I’m just trying to answer questions.”
He has already done that for several groups, including the Dodge Center Lions Club, West Concord bowling leagues and a presentation this week for the West Concord Legion. He has more presentations scheduled, including three public information sessions and a forum panel discussion. He said he has also been answering questions from individuals who have contacted him.
One of the most common questions he has received is why will there only be one polling place.
All in-person voting on Election Day will be at the Dodge Center City Hall.
Because of the one central polling place, he said, some residents who are used to voting in Claremont and Dodge Center or their township halls may feel they are being excluded.
Schlichting said he understands why people may feel that way, but the reason is that this election is not being held in a regular election year and the school district must pay all the costs involved including printing costs, election judges and the legal fees that are needed to draw up the ballot. The City Hall location was chosen because state law says the election must be held in a location that is a normal polling site. This excludes the school because voting is not done there during a regular election.
For residents who cannot or do not want to travel to Dodge Center to vote, he said, absentee voting allows one to vote in the comfort of their own home.
Voters can make a request to the school district office that a ballot be mailed to their home. An addressed, stamped return envelope is included with the ballot, which is then mailed back to the district office. These ballots remain sealed until Election Day when they are opened and counted by election officials.
For those wishing to vote in person, voting hours are 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. All voters must be registered to vote and registration can be done at the polling place on Election Day.
Another common question, Schlichting said, is how the levy will affect farmers and large landowners.
The difference between a levy referendum, which is what Triton is conducting, and a bond referendum is that for a levy all taxpayers are treated equally.
A levy referendum is to raise money for the operation of the school where a bond referendum is to raise money to build new buildings.
In a levy, each taxpayer is taxed for one acre of land and the value of their house and garage. A bond referendum taxes all the acres an individual or company owns.
The district has estimated that for a property with a value of $75,000 the taxes, if the levy is approved, would be $117.40 a year. On a $125,00 property, $195.66 a year; $391.32 a year on a $250,000 property and $704.37 a year on a $450,000 property.
For those who question why the district cannot just “tighten its belt,” Schlichting points out that the district has made substantial cuts over the past several years. Money has been saved by restructuring the administrative make-up of the district. Additional personnel changes included hiring a consulting firm instead of replacing a business manager, reducing the equivalent of 8 full time equivalent teachers, four paraprofessionals, three custodians/buildings employees and one bus driver. Fees have been raised for students participating in activities and all department budgets have been cut.
Cutting student activities is not a solution, he said, because that can result in some students choosing open enrollment in other districts, which results in a loss of per pupil aid from the state.
For those wanting more information on the referendum, the district mailed an information sheet to all residents recently.
Public information meetings are scheduled in each of the three cities in the Triton district. There will be meetings at 7 p.m. Oct. 15 at the Claremont City Hall, 7:30 p.m. Oct. 21 in the Triton Performing Arts Center and 7 p.m. Oct. 24 at the West Concord City Hall.
There will also be a forum panel at 7 p.m. on Oct. 29 in the Triton Performing Arts Center.