The Montevideo School Board held their regular meeting remotely on Monday, May 11 at 6 p.m., where they discussed numerous items, including the renewal of the current operating referendum.

The Montevideo School Board held their regular meeting remotely on Monday, May 11 at 6 p.m., where they discussed numerous items, including the renewal of the current operating referendum.

According to Superintendent Dr. Luther Heller, the last operating referendum was run in the fall of 2011. When he arrived in the summer of 2009, like many districts at the time, the Montevideo School District was going through a fiscally challenging time.

“We had a $500 per pupil unit operating referendum in place that was scheduled to expire in about two years and it was clear that we needed to renew and increase the referendum,” Heller said. “In the fall of 2009, we attempted to do a repeal and replace vote on that operating referendum, and that failed.”

As a result, the district went through a series of reductions where it reduced its general fund budget by 10 percent, and its staff size by 10 percent.

In 2011, the district went back to the voters with a two-question referendum.

“Because we believed that the current referendum was not sufficient to meet our needs, the first question was for a $700 per pupil unit referendum to replace the existing $50 referendum. This would be for the general operations of the district,” said Heller.

The district placed an additional question on the ballot for a $200 per pupil unit, which, if passed, would predominantly be used for a technology initiative that would enable the district to upgrade the technology within its schools and eventually put a 1:1 initiative in place.

“That would allow us to place a device in the hands of every student,” said Heller. “In addition, some of the money in the second question would go towards curriculum and programs.”

Both questions brought forward were passed; the first question enabled the district to maintain financial integrity and continue operations, and the second question allowed it to move forward with a technological initiative.

According to Heller, in the time since the referendum passed, the state legislature moved $724 per pupil unit in revenue authority from voter-approved to board-approved referendum authority, which goes toward the operations of the district. That left approximately $156 per pupil unit in referendum authority as a voter-approved referendum, which was used to fund the technology initiative.

“Mr. Ripley, the district’s Chief Technology Officer, has done a remarkable job of guiding the district through a technology initiative that has given the district a state-of-the-art technology infrastructure and made a Chromebook available to every student in grades 1-12, and made a tablet available for every student in kindergarten,” Heller explained. “One of the unforseen benefits of that was our district was well-prepared to go into distance learning when the current pandemic struck the nation.”

Had the district not received the funding for the technology initiative, those without access to electronic devices or internet would have had to face extra challenges when the state’s stay at home order was enacted and distance learning was put in place.

The district has two opportunities to renew the $156 per pupil unit operating levy. If it is not renewed by the fall of 2021, the levy will expire at the end of the fiscal year and the district will no longer have funding for their technology initiative.

“The worst case scenario would be that our 1:1 initiative would go away,” Heller said.

At this time the district has not determined the exact amount of the referendum, but will be discussing it and developing a plan throughout the summer.

Heller said, “At the very least, we would want to renew the existing amount, but consideration could be given into looking at an increase. At this time, that has not been discussed at the board level.”

Renewing the existing referendum would go toward the district’s technology initiative, and any increase would go toward the district’s curriculum and general operations.

Heller added, “It should be kept in mind that the current pandemic is taking a fiscal toll on many businesses within the state and nation, and that the schools are no exception to that.”

Heller has recommended going to voters with an operation referendum in November, but the final decision will be made later this summer