A FEW NOTES ABOUT THE ELECTION
At the August 14 School Board meeting, the School Board adopted a resolution establishing a special election the ROCORI School District. The election will be conducted on Tuesday, November 7th. The election was set for the purpose of voting on a capital project levy authorization to fund technology.
I would like to spend some time to highlight information about the referendum and the rationale for the election. Last week, the ballot itself was shared with background information related to the proposal. This week, we will explore some additional detail!
HOW WILL THE FUNDS BE USED?
This levy has been proposed specifically to support technology purposes in the district. Three main purposes are to keep technology current, ensure career and college readiness for students, and enhance communications tools.
The first priority is keep technology current. Technology must be replaced or upgraded over time. Current capital funding allocations put replacement of computers, tablets, cameras and network at longer times than industry standard. This means students must work with outdated technology. The district desires to keep current with industry replacement standards.
A second priority is ensuring career and college readiness for students by providing technology opportunities meeting student needs. This includes resources such as applications or programs in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM), robotics support, and other experiences.
A third priority is enhance communications tools such as the district website, social media resources, and opportunities to engage the community. Improving the function and interaction of the website supports parent and student educational experiences.
KEEP TECHNOLOGY CURRENT
Because families have computers and technology at home, it probably makes sense that the items have a limited “life expectancy.” Updates, improvements, and changes to technology means that the tools become outdated and cannot function effectively over time.
The length of time is different for many different types of technology. IPads, for example, have a fairly short life expectancy—usually about 3 to 5 years. Laptop computers, which are a little more durable than iPads, are generally expected to last about 4 to 6 years. Other tools (Smartboards, wiring, switches, desktop computers, routers, servers, etc.) have different life expectancies based on their function, use, and service.
The ROCORI District has been very fortunate in the recent past. We have been able to make technology upgrades because of particular circumstances or experiences. Because of the positive bid environment in 2010, the district building construction project came in under budget and the construction resources could be directed toward technology improvements, infrastructure development, and hardware investments. At other times, legislative action has provided funding for some technology investments. The timing of these situations came at points that were very helpful to the ROCORI Schools.
Under current budget possibilities, however, all of the district technology will quickly fall out of date and need to be used well beyond its expected lifespan. Our analysis of all district technology indicates the district technology budget needs to double, which the referendum allows, in order to keep technology current through industry standard replacement cycles.
I know replacement of technology—or, for that matter, replacement of almost anything—is not very exciting or appealing, but it is necessary. In order for the ROCORI District to make a difference for students and to pursue the goal of being a standard of excellence, keeping current with technology resources is critical.
CAREER AND COLLEGE READINESS
A strategic direction we have set as a district is to ensure that our students are adequately and appropriately prepared for careers and/or college. Career and college readiness, in our current world, requires access to and experience with various technology tools, programs, and resources.
As a simple example of this, the ROCORI School District has determined that our basic platform for operations is Microsoft—using Word, Excel, Powerpoint, and the entire suite of products. Many other schools have chosen a Google platform, but we chose Microsoft because that is what students will experience outside of the world of education. We believe it better prepares students for career and college readiness. In order to sustain this, however, we have annual subscriptions and renewal costs.
In many of our academic disciplines, there are computer programs, software items, or technology apps that provide great experiences and learning situations for students. Virtually all of these require purchases, subscriptions, or investment to receive. They are used to help our students be prepared.
Some particular programs, such as Project Lead the Way offered in the Middle and High School sites, require specific software items or can be enhanced with technology tools. Project Lead the Way encourages students to explore various ways of designing, constructing, or developing products and introduces them to skills in trades and careers. Additional resources are needed to assure student preparation.
In the last few years, our Robotics programs have grown rapidly—at the elementary, middle and senior high levels. These programs give students great experiences in “real-world” design, planning, and development. At present, these programs are dependent on donations from businesses and individuals in the community. To stabilize and expand the Robotics programs and teams, additional technology resources are required.
ENHANCE COMMUNICATIONS TOOLS
One concern we have heard over the last year is about the district webpage. Although there is a lot of information included in our site, some criticisms have indicated it can be challenging to maneuver through the website, that information is not always current, and that it could be more interactive. While we believe there is good information in the website, improvements do require investment of resources—both finances and personnel.
The greatest need of the district is to dedicate employee time to the maintenance, upgrade, and function of the website. In order to keep information current, to adjust to various seasons or times of the year, and to provide information constituents desire, we need to have staff dedicated to do so. The referendum provides resources to better meet these needs.
In addition, the ability to communicate more about the district is hampered without additional resources. Sharing district information through tools like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram also requires personnel dedicated toward these tasks and duties.
The referendum, coupled with current budget resources, would allow the district to keep technology current and allow us to enhance student services and constituent communications tools.
TAX IMPACT OF REFERENDUM QUESTION
Part of the reason for seeking the referendum at this time is the overall tax impact of the question. If the referendum is authorized, at this time, there is very minimal change in the property taxes paid by district constituents from the taxes in previous years.
Two key issues have created the situation where the referendum has a minimal tax effect. Over the last several years, the school board has been able to refinance the primary debt obligations of the district. The refinance efforts, which go into effect over the next two tax years, reduce the interest rates on the debt which, in turn, reduces the tax burden on constituents.
The two smaller debt refinancing issues go into effect in the next tax year (levied 2017, payable in 2018). In the following year (levied 2018, payable in 2019), the final refinance takes effect. With all of the refinance issues, the reduced tax obligations offset the costs of the proposed referendum. In essence, technology can be supported without changing the tax burden from current rates.
The second key issue was action from the legislature last spring. The Minnesota laws changed regarding property tax effects for agricultural property. The tax burden for agricultural land has been significantly reduced.
The annual dollar increases for typical residential homesteads, apartments, commercial-industrial properties, and most other classes of property within the school district are as shown in the table that accompanies the article.
IF DEFEATED, WILL TAXES GO DOWN?
Constituents have asked what would happen if the proposed referendum is defeated. If the proposal is not approved, local property taxes would go down because of the district efforts to refinance long-term obligations and the legislative action.
The school board has refinanced three bonds to secure lower interest rates for district taxpayers. Legislative changes in 2017 reduced tax obligations for agricultural land. These efforts allow district taxpayers to have a reduced tax obligation if the referendum is defeated.
There is only one question on the ballot on November 7. There are no city, county or state offices; the only issue is the proposed referendum. We want voters to have good information about the purposes and intent of the referendum. We would encourage constituents to learn about the referendum and, if there are additional questions, to call School Board members or the District Office for information!