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North Branch Schools

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September 25, 2021

6/18/2021 11:40:00 AM
UPDATE: Chisago Lakes puts brakes on fall levy week after approving it

EDITOR'S NOTE: This story covers the Wednesday, June 9 special meeting and appeared in our Thursday, June 17 issue. During the Chisago Lakes' School Board regular meeting on Thursday, June 17, after our issue went to print, the board voted to rescind the motion to go for a fall levy after meeting with consultants, who informed them the short timeline would not work.

The board still plans to go for a levy in 2022, but they wanted to make sure this wasn't a rushed process and did not set a specific 2022 date for a levy vote.

The Chisago Lakes School Board held a special meeting on Wednesday, June 9. The main reason the meeting was called was to make the decision if they would be going for a levy in the fall voting cycle, and if an agreement with consulting firms to aid them in getting a potential levy passed should continue.

Board member Melissa Donovan was not present at the meeting, with chairman Mark Leigh stating that she had prior obligations.
“We are underfunded with what we have for a budget, but what are our thoughts and projections for the next budget?” board member Jeff Lindeman asked. “If we don’t pass a levy, are we going to be cutting again?”

Director of Business Services Robyn Vosberg-Torgerson said that it was trending that way. Lindeman agreed. He then wondered what would be the best way to take the temperature of the community. “Are there any community indicators where we are economically? We have this feeling that boy it’s tough out there, yet I go to the boat ramps and the restaurants and I see what goes on around us and I’m just making a judgement on what I see,” Lindeman said.

Leigh proceeded to say that is the type of information that the consultants could provide in a survey, but Lindeman disagreed, saying the staff and community think that’s a bad idea of resource allocation. “What number are we going to choose if we go out for a levy? $500, $750? Are we going to match Forest Lake?” Leigh asked. “It’s not just a levy, it’s the amount of a levy.”

“The amount is something we come to by defining our goals and our needs, but we need to decide if we are moving forward at all,” Board member Lori Berg said.

“I think the reason the board voted in the first place to hire these people is because it gives us information that we don’t have. Yes there are other forums that information comes out of. We know of Facebook forums, and open forum here and e-mails, but that doesn’t represent what a scientific survey would do,” Leigh said.

“The most important thing to me is to get this school district in a financial position where we can support our people, support our programs and get out of this cut mode. We need to get ourselves in a healthy financial position, and with the state and federal government not keeping up with funding, this is the lever we can attempt to put our hands on. I want to put us in a position to succeed,” Berg added.

The total consulting survey cost done by Morris Leatherman Company would be approximately $17,000, and the district has  invested $3,500 into it.

On top of that, Todd Rapp, of Rapp Strategies, Inc., would be in on the levy process at the cost of $3,500 per month.

“This is a thoughtful and intentional process, and it does cost money,” Superintendent Dean Jennissen said of the consulting survey.

“I don’t think people are opposed to putting money into the system. I think the issue is confidence that we’re going to use it well,” Lindeman added. “We need to work on the confidence of our community because right now they don’t believe.”

“I understand there’s a lot of people you’re not speaking for that believe we have done a good job and will continue to do a good job and have put their faith and trust in us,” Leigh responded. “I understand there is a group that doesn’t believe that and that’s fine, but that’s why I think it’s important to take this from a scientific point of view.”

“I want the community to buy what were offering, not just have an outside firm sell them something,” Lindeman said, as he stated he was in support of going for a levy, but firmly against spending any more consulting dollars after the survey.

After another period of discussion, much of it circling back on repeat topics, the board re-focused on the task at hand, which was determining if the district was going to hold a levy vote.

Lindeman made the motion to have a levy in November, and board member Brenda Carlson seconded the motion, with the vote passing unanimously.

“If you’re one of those voters who is saying absolutely not, no way, would you give one of us a call and let us tell our story and just be willing to listen?” Lindeman said. “We have a lot of work to do.”

The board stopped short of putting a levy amount together outside of some speculative numbers. They wanted to use the survey as a measuring stick of what the community would or would not be willing to work with.

The board then moved on to reconsidering the agreement with the consulting firms. The board was mostly unanimous in the fact that they wanted to finish up the early survey at a total cost of $17,000. Lindeman wanted to know if they could add a question to the survey about if the community would support spending more consulting money, essentially asking for the community opinion on spending the totality of the $40,000 consulting contract that was agreed upon in March.

“We have to get information that we currently don’t have, and that’s what the consulting firms can help with,” Jennissenn said.

“We want parents to help drive this with us,” Berg added, but we need to coordinate our message and how we’re going to drive it. There’s just things we didn’t know about.”

Lindeman made a motion to have Leatherman and Associates proceed with the survey, which costs about $17,000 total and the district will hold off on Todd Rapp’s consulting services until they see the results of the survey, which Jennissenn said could take roughly one month.

If response is highly unfavorable towards the levy, the board figures Rapp’s services may not be needed to consult throughout the election process anyway, so the idea was to keep him on hold. But, Lindeman repeatedly said he was currently not in favor of spending any more consulting dollars on top of the survey unless the community supported that.

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