Just over a year ago, the Pequot Lakes school board adopted a Strategic Roadmap establishing our 2020 Vision after multiple forums to engage community members, parents and district staff. The process reaffirmed the incredible amount of pride felt for our schools and resulted in a bold vision statement that sets very high expectations.
Pequot Lakes Schools is recognized as a world-class learning organization that:
● provides a rigorous, relevant and personalized learning experience for each student
● inspires learning, excellence, creativity, and innovation
● cultivates a diverse worldview, self-awareness, self-discipline, and the interpersonal skills necessary for success in the world
● is dedicated to supporting the needs of each learner
Writing a vision statement can be a challenge, but wrestling with how to make the vision happen is much more difficult. As we do each fall, our school board is working to establish the preliminary levy for the upcoming calendar year. The issue is more difficult this year for two reasons: a) the legislature has not kept general aid revenue increases in line with inflation over the past 10+ years and has tasked school boards with more responsibility to levy revenue locally, and b) our community clearly expects a world-class education for Pequot Lakes students as shown in our 2020 Vision. Our school board has been very purposeful about focusing a three year spend down of fund balance on implementing our strategic plan with expanded intervention and enrichment opportunities for students and by working to provide the technologies necessary to prepare students for their future years. With the fund balance now spent down and the lack of a revenue correction from the legislature, our school board must now make a difficult decision between cutting key components of our strategic plan and increasing revenues through a local levy - or even doing both.
When adjusted for inflation (CPI) and changes to the state pupil weight formula, school districts receive over $600 less per pupil today than was received in 2003 according to the MN Department of Education. This 10% drop in funding has been addressed by nearly all districts in MN with local operating levies that averaged $474 per pupil in 2003 and now average over $1260 per pupil. With $1 million dollars less each year in operating revenue than in 2003 (when adjusted for inflation and pupil weight changes), Pequot Lakes Schools has reached the end of gaining efficiencies through reductions and must now increase revenues if our goal is truly to create a world-class learning experience for students as our 2020 Vision calls for.
In September, our school board will hear my recommendation to increase our per pupil operating levy from $300 per pupil to $724 per pupil, generating just over $750,000 in additional revenue that would close the budget gap forecasted for 2016-17 and allow the district to assign funds to address necessary expenditures that have been deferred to balance budgets over the past ten years (ie… we currently have 14 buses that are older than the recommended 12 years of service). This increase to our local operating levy would cost owners of a $100,000 home approximately $8 per month, a $300,000 home $26 per month, and a $500,000 home $43 per month (about $100/year for every $100k in value). The school board must approve the preliminary 2016 levy in September with final approval in December.
While we would all argue that this wonderful community has provided our students with world-class facilities, our lack of operational revenue (which is different from funds to build facilities) to employ teachers and purchase classroom materials is anything but first class. Our district currently falls into the bottom 20 districts in MN in overall operating revenue per pupil. Pequot Lakes Schools received $8,718 per pupil for operations in 2013-14 while Walker-Hackensack-Akeley Schools received $12,279 per pupil, Crosby-Ironton Schools received $10,768 per pupil, Blackduck Schools received $11,434 per pupil, and Minneapolis Schools received $13,934 per pupil. All surrounding districts receive more per pupil than our district. The Pequot Lakes school board and staff have clearly demonstrated an admirable ability to deliver more with less, yet our community is asking for our students to have a world-class learning experience that exceeds our current resources.
As the fall season at school shifts into high speed, please consider the 2020 Vision for our Patriot students and support providing the necessary resources to make it a reality. In addition, please reach out to me if I can provide more background information for any local group that is interested. Go Patriots!!
-- Chris Lindholm, Superintendent of Schools