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Update: Voters raise Burnsville-Eagan-Savage levy, but broader issue remains

Voters in the Burnsville-Eagan-Savage District voted to raise their property levy Tuesday, according to unofficial results reported to the Minnesota Secretary of State.

Around 61% of approximately 3,200 voters approved the change.

District officials expect the levy to generate an additional $1.7 million annually for the district’s general expenses.

“The support from our community is inspiring and essential,” Superintendent Theresa Battle said in a statement. “We are in a time of transformation for District 191. I know we will grow stronger and better for our students, and it means everything to know that we’re doing it in partnership with our community.”

The ballot question asked voters to revoke two existing voter-approved levies and replace them with a single operating levy for the next 10 years that will provide the maximum amount of per-student funding allowed under state law.

The majority of voters approved the levy at all seven precincts, according to the preliminary results.

“We are incredibly grateful for the trust voters have placed in us and the vocal support from so many in the One91 community,” Board of Education Chairwoman Abigail Alt said in a statement.

A property owner of a $250,000 property will see an estimated $6 monthly tax increase, according to Ehlers, a district financial consultant. A property owner of a $700,000 property will see an estimated $18 monthly increase.

District officials have said the funding will help close a projected $5.5 million budget shortfall projected for next year, but Battle said Wednesday it’s too early to estimate exactly how the levy will reduce the district’s cuts.

That could become clearer once the state officially sets the levy cap and the district receives an audit report with enrollment figures.

“We’re taking several steps to stabilize our funding in the short term and grow for the future,” Battle said, referring to the district’s ongoing review of school facilities and whether to close some schools.

She said voter support of the levy showed local residents trust the promise that the district will continue to build strong programming once such changes are in place.

“They are really focused on our students,” she said. “They want to support our staff and programming, yet at the same time they understand the financial challenge we have.”

Financial challenges aren’t unique to Burnsville-Eagan-Savage.

Voters in over 70 districts across the state decided a referendum ballot question this year, according to MPR News. More than 40 districts asked voters for new operating levies to cover general expenses.

More than 30 districts asked voters for dollars to build or maintain school facilities. In White Bear Lake, voters approved a $326 million bond referendum.

Officials have said they need to rely more heavily on local taxpayers because of lagging state and federal aid.

Aaron Tinklenberg, the Burnsville district spokesman, said its Legislative Action Committee continues to push lawmakers to increase special education funding to bridge the gap between the need and government aid, which cost the district around $12.5 million from the general fund last year.

Education officials have also asked the state to increase the per-student funding formula.

“When you don’t have inflationary increases — on top of more programming needs for special needs students — that’s why you see so many referendums across the state of Minnesota,” Battle said.