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Moorhead School Board gives itself authority continue portion of per-pupil levy without public vote

MOORHEAD – The Moorhead School Board voted 5-0 Monday to give itself the authority to continue nearly a third of its per-pupil tax levy without going to the voters.

The board, like other districts across the state, is allowed to convert $300 of taxpayer-approved per-pupil levy authority to its own authority, thanks to action by the 2013 Legislature, Superintendent Lynne Kovash said.

“We’ve heard about it, and this legislative change,” board Chairwoman Cynthia Fagerlie said before the board quickly passed the motion.

The district’s current per-pupil levy, including $850 authorized by voters in 2010 for seven years, is $949.52.

The converted $300 in taxing authority will be in place beginning next year and must be approved by the board every five years, Kovash said.

The board will have the opportunity to convert an even larger portion of the per-pupil levy to its own authority in the 2015-16 school year, according to Assistant Superintendent Jeremy Larson. The board will be able to place an additional $424 under its authority, to be renewed on a yearly basis.

That would leave $225.52 under voter control. Whether the board will return to the voters for that remaining amount will depend on changes in state education funding in the next couple years, Kovash said.

Kovash said state lawmakers gave school boards the ability to convert up to $300 in per-pupil taxing authority to help equalize education funding.

Some wealthier districts can afford to levy $2,000 per pupil without too much effort, while voters in other districts may refuse to levy any extra per-pupil funds, she said.

In other business, the board approved the district’s 2014-15 annual operating plan and the preliminary budget for fiscal year 2015. Overall district revenues are expected to be $64,282,290, with expected expenditures of $63,609,715 in the coming school year.

Property tax revenues are expected to fall to $4,727,821, down almost $550,000 from 2013-14, as more state funding comes in.

“The money is the same, it’s just going to be coming from state aid rather than property taxes,” Larson told the board. Property tax revenues are projected to remain flat for the next two years.

Fargerlie said she was pleased with the budget forecasts. “Even though our district is growing, we’re still able to live within our means, so far,” she said.

The district is planning several capital projects next year, including a $165,000 remodel of the Ellen Hopkins Elementary parking lot and sidewalk.

The proposed general fund levy payable in 2014 is $6,315,090, about $613,000 less than the 2013 payable levy. The community service fund levy payable in 2014 is $455,014, more than $43,000 less than the 2013 payable levy. And the debt service fund levy is $6,732,018 payable in 2014, about $221,000 more than the 2013 payable levy.

The district’s ending fund balance is expected to increase nearly $700,000 to $12,871,452 by the end of the school year.

The district’s staffing plan calls for having the full-time equivalent of 435.27 teachers on staff starting this fall, more than 13 FTEs greater than last year.

The administrative and supervisory staff remained stable at 24 FTEs.

All other staff, including paraprofessionals, security, custodians, administrative assistants and others, are expected to total 267.18 FTEs, 2.5 fewer FTEs than the last school year.

The projected fall enrollment is 5,823 students in grades K-12, up 175 students, or 3.1 percent, from 2013-14.

The student to teacher ratio targets for kindergarten through third grade are 24 to 1; grades four and five, 27 to 1; and middle and high school core classes, 30 to 1.