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District finds support for levy, but it has limits

Residents in the Rosemount-Apple Valley-Eagan School District appear willing to open their wallets for a new school levy, but maybe not as far as district administrators would have hoped.

A survey conducted for the district by Decision Resources in June found that residents are as happy as anyone in the Twin Cities with with the way District 196 schools do their business - Decision Resources president Bill Morris said the levels of satisfaction on some measures are in the top 10 percent of metro-area public schools. But while Morris said survey results suggest renewal of the district's current $20 million operating levy would be practically a sure thing, asking for something significantly bigger might cause problems.

The Decision Resources survey found support for adding as much as $8.10 per household per month to that $20 million levy, but the higher the number went, the weaker that support got. Presented with the possibility of a $36 million levy that would add $22 per month to the taxes on a $200,000 home - the most the district could ask under state rules - only 49 percent called themselves supporters or strong supporters while 47 percent said they would oppose or strongly oppose the vote.

"It's way too close," Morris told board members in a workshop before Monday night's regular meeting. "In good conscience we would never suggest you go for that amount."

Even among the people most likely to vote, support for a maximum levy is narrow, with 52 percent saying they would vote for the levy and 45 percent saying they would oppose it.

Much of the opposition comes from Rosemount, where the survey found 63 percent of residents opposed a maximum levy. The same proposed levy got 56 percent support from Apple Valley residents and 53 percent support in Eagan.

According to the survey, the sweet spot for the district if it chooses to put a levy on the ballot in November would add $4 million to $8 million to the current $20 million levy.

That would not be enough to erase budget adjustments the district expects to make in the next few years. Finance director Jeff Solomon told board members Monday night that current projections call for $9.5 million in adjustments for the 2014-15 school year and another $23.5 million in the 2015-16 school year.

Those projections are down some from earlier numbers thanks to some new funding from the state of Minnesota. But Solomon said the new money from the state does not keep up with the cost of inflation.

School board chair Rob Duchscher asked district administration to come to the board's Aug. 5 meeting with a recommendation on whether to pursue a levy and, if it should, how much the district should ask for.

Nathan Hansen

Nathan Hansen has been a reporter and editor with the Farmington Independent and the Rosemount Town Pages since 1997. He is very tall.

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