— Relief was the word of the day for many area school officials with referendum questions on the ballot.
As of late Tuesday, it was clear that at least half of the 12 districts in this area passed at least one question during Election Day on Tuesday. Among them were Waseca, Cleveland, Le Sueur-Henderson, Nicollet, Janesville-Waldorf-Pemberton and St. Peter. Those failing to pass a question included Sleepy Eye, Madelia and New Ulm. Results were not obtained for Gibbon-Fairfax-Winthrop, Sibley East and Truman.
In Le Sueur-Henderson, school officials were candid that without passage of both levy questions, the district would be forced to close Hilltop Elementary in Henderson and add to the $1.5 million in budget cuts over the last three years to balance the budget.
Both questions, however, passed in both communities — an important result for a district that has endured a series of emotionally charged conversations in recent years that focused on Hilltop’s future and the possibility of switching to a four-day week.
In Janesville-Waldorf-Pemberton, Supt. Dick Orcutt said the district would face statutory operating debt, or even consolidation, within two or three years without passage of an operating levy.
Though JWP’s second ballot question failed by fewer than 40 votes, taxpayers did approve the first question to install the maximum allowable levy of $1,485 per pupil.
“It was critical the first one passed,” Orcutt said.
In Waseca, a failed referendum last year left the district as one of about 30 in the entire state without a levy. In the weeks leading up to Election Day, Supt. Brian Dietz said the district was at a “tipping point” and would be hard-pressed to find further areas to reduce the budget after eliminating $5.3 million in the last five years, including closing a school facility and cutting 41 staff members and 57 electives.