— 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.
This year, Waseca’s referendum passed by a 61 percent majority and will allow the district to replenish fund balances, restore lost electives, rehire some staff and update classroom equipment and technology.
St. Peter Supt. Jeff Olson said the economic conditions are still difficult and thanked taxpayers for approving his district’s operating levy. Without it, the district was forecasting a nearly $600,000 budget deficit for the 2013-14 school year.
“I think in really tough economic times, it’s gratifying to see the residents of the St. Peter school district support the school system,” Olson said. “We’re looking forward to having an opportunity to continue to grow and develop programs and maintain the things we think are working effectively for students.”
Janesville-Waldorf-Pemberton: Question 1 to revoke current $571 per pupil and replace with $1,485 per pupil for eight years, passed 1,010 to 812; Question 2 for inflationary increases rejected, 889 votes to 926.
Le Sueur-Henderson: Question 1 for additional $350 per pupil for six years approved, 1,453 votes to 852; Question 2 for additional $150 per pupil for six years approved, 1,260 votes to 1,036.
Madelia: Additional $500 per pupil for 10 years, rejected 337 to 376.
Nicollet: Question 1 to renew $800 per pupil for five years, passed 549 votes to 145; Question 2 for additional $300 per pupil for five years, passed 455 to 240.
New Ulm: Additional $725 per pupil for 10 years, rejected 2,184 votes to 2,493.
St. Peter: Revoke $310 per pupil and replace with $550 per pupil for 10 years passed, 1,290 votes to 859.
Sleepy Eye: Question 1 for new $750 per pupil for seven years, rejected 459 to 739; Question 2 for additional $250 per pupil for seven years, rejected 396 to 802.
Waseca: New $700 per pupil for six years, passed 2,062 votes to 1,292.
Gibbon Fairfax Winthrop: Increase from $468 per pupil to $870 per pupil., passed 898 to 512.
Sibley East: Renewing $600 per pupil levy, passed 852 votes to 322.
Truman: To renew $256 levy per pupil, passed. 231-80.