Though the school board was divided, the final Pine River-Backus School District’s 2013 levy was adopted Tuesday night, Dec. 18, in the amount of $946,147.97, the same amount as this year.
The school board previously certified a preliminary levy at $1,049,879.73. The final levy was a drop of 10.96 percent from the preliminary levy.
A small crowd attended the truth in taxation hearing held during the regular school board meeting. The majority of attendants who spoke during the public comment portion of the hearing asked the board to adopt the same levy as this year, and not to raise taxes.
Jolene Bengtson, business manager for the district, explained that this year the district promised a certain level of taxes when the building bond was passed. At that time, the district didn’t know the state would remove the homestead market credit and replace it with the market value exclusion.
Bengtson explained that switching to the market value exclusion saved the state money, but in many cases caused property taxes to rise. In order to keep the district’s tax promise, the levy was cut.
“I think, personally, the district needs revenue now more than it needs to worry about the tax rate,” Bengtson said of the levy, while fielding questions from the audience.
Dawn Bergerson, president of the teachers’ union, read a letter from another teacher during open forum urging the board to levy the maximum amount. Bergerson also spoke for herself in urging the board to levy the most it could. She expressed concern over potential budget cuts if less was levied.
Dawn Rubner, former board member, and two other men who would not give their names, asked the board not to raise the levy from this year.
They expressed displeasure with teacher raises and adding hours or hiring more staff.
The main contention in the discussion was whether the district was balancing its budget correctly — whether it was cutting too much or not enough, and whether it was living within its means.
Board member Sandra Poferl spoke in favor of levying the most the district could.
“Parents expect us to give their student the highest quality education we can provide,” Poferl said. “We’ve got to go for the good of the student.”
Board member Jim Coffland responded in opposition to raising the levy.
“I agree with giving the best education, but I say it’s the best education us taxpayers can afford,” he said. “I will not vote for another increase.”
Just before the vote was called, board Chair Garny Gaffey spoke, urging the board to levy the maximum. He said levying lower now would cause major financial problems in the future.
When Coffland made the motion to certify the levy at the same level as this year, Gaffey responded, “You are going to decimate this district.”
The levy passed 4-2, with Poferl and Gaffey voting against.
At the final open forum at the meeting, Rubner thanked the board for not raising the levy; Bergerson was visibly saddened and said she was “extremely upset” with the decision.