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Growing pains? DL schools hikes levy 15 percent

Growth can be a blessing or a curse.

The Detroit Lakes School District is experiencing those growing pains when it comes to school funding and class size issues.

As the School Board approved the maximum levy for 2009-10 during a special meeting Friday morning, it addressed concerns about the funding. The proposed $3.8 million levy is estimated to be a 15.35 percent increase over this year's amount.

The jump is the highest in at least nine years with this year's levy only increasing 2.66 percent from 2007-08.

Business manager Ted Heisserer said that the small increase this year was due to the sale of the Callaway School. The district had to apply all of the proceeds to its debt service fund.

But debt service will decrease by almost half a million dollars for the 2010-11 school year.

"This is the last year in $490,000 of debt service that we'll levy for the 1990 bond (that paid for the Callaway and Roosevelt buildings)," Heisserer said.

One of those concerns was that school districts face a larger burden to fund themselves as local property values increase.

The current market value for property in the school district is just over $1.7 billion. That number is a 15.2 percent increase from last year.

"Some of that is increased value and some of that is new (construction)," Heisserer said.

On average, the statewide increase in property market value was at 8.2 percent.

Market values have almost doubled in the county in the last five years.

The latest numbers don't include tax projections for some projects that are underway.

Increased property values are good in one way for the district in that it can lessen the per capita property tax burden, Heisserer said, but it hurts taxpayers another way.

As local property values go up, the state provides less funding under an equalization formula.

"It shifts the burden from the state to the local taxpayer," Heisserer said.

Superintendent Doug Froke said that with the talk of deficits at the state level once again, property tax payers would have more of the burden for school funding heaped upon them.

"Anytime you hear the state talk about projected budget deficits, here comes the shifts," Froke said.

In dealing directly with growth issues that are affecting schools right now, the board approved the hiring of several teachers to alleviate large class sizes.

"We've gone back to the drawing board to see what we could do with these class size issues," Froke said.

As part of that, the two full-time teachers were added - a sixth-grade middle school teacher and a fourth-grade teacher at Rossman Elementary.

Additionally, three half-time teachers at the second, third and fifth grades were added. The district will also be adding a reading recovery teacher that will be roaming.

Froke said that's a start, but there are long-range issues coming up.

One is how to help with ad adequate yearly progress under the No Child Left Behind provisions. A preliminary plan that was distributed to the board - but not discussed - is to hire four full-time teachers who would be coaches to address the needs of both students and teachers.

How that will be implemented will be discussed further, since the district doesn't know if it will hire four new teachers for the academic coaching positions or move over existing teachers to be coaches, which opens up classroom teaching positions.

Class size issues remain a thorn in the district's side too. While administrators would like to decrease the teacher-to-student ratio, space is becoming a problem.

"There simply is a room issue at Rossman," Froke said.