• Frequently Asked Questions

    Q. What happens if the referendum is approved?

    A. If voters approve the plan, the funds would:

    • Maintain mental health support
    • Maintain existing class sizes and make adjustments when needed
    • Maintain a broad variety of academic, co-curricular, and extracurricular programming
    • Attract and retain quality staff 
    • Lead to financial stability
    • Provide the ability to enhance student opportunities when it is needed
    • Provide middle school students with the gymnasium space that they deserve

    Q. What if the referendum is not approved?

    A. If the operating levy or bond fails, the middle school gym will not be constructed and the district will continue looking at options for additional physical educational space, including filling in the pool.


    Q. How do Willmar school taxes compare to our neighbors?

    A. Willmar School District is among the lowest of all tax rates within neighboring schools. Even with the proposed referendums passing, the school tax bill would remain in the lower half of neighboring schools. And Willmar’s $45 per pupil operating levy is hundreds of dollars less than the state average of $874 per pupil. Willmar proposes a total operating levy of $750 per pupil, less than the state average.

    Q. Didn’t you receive money at the legislature? Why do you need more?

    A. The State of MN made important new investments in preK-12 schools during the recent legislative session, but those investments only helped Willmar and other school districts partly catch up from more than a decade of funding schools lower than the rate of inflation. Schools received an increase of 4% for 2023-24 and 2% for 2024-25 on the general education school funding formula and received some relief from the long-standing underfunding of mandated services in special education and multilingual learning, which forced districts to spend general funds to make up the difference. These new revenues, while helpful, are not sufficient to fully fund these and other State and Federal mandates, to make up for decades where funding did not keep pace with inflation, or to make up for the recent period of high inflation, tight job markets, and other pandemic impacts. Those investments were welcome but won't enable Willmar to help all students compete and thrive in a changing world.


    Q. Does the funding that Willmar received from the federal government to address the COVID-19 pandemic affect the levy? 

    A. Willmar used Federal COVID funding to preserve critical services for students during the pandemic and accelerate learning recovery afterward. All COVID funds have been allocated and, according to Federal law, must be expended by September 2024. As a result, those funds are not a resource for continuing support for the mission of our school district. 


    Q. What is the difference between a bond and an operating levy? 

    A. Bonds are for buildings. Levies are for learning. An operating referendum is an election asking voters to provide funds that the district uses to run and operate its schools. An operating levy is for running the educational programs at the school and goes to the district’s general fund to support students.


    Bond levies are for funds that the school district uses for new construction, updates to existing facilities, and other additions to school properties. Each fund remains separate and cannot be used for another purpose.


    Q. How do schools impact the community?

    A. According to the National Bureau of Economic Research, there is a definite correlation between school expenditures and home values in any given neighborhood. A report titled, “Using Market Valuation to Assess Public School Spending,” found that for every dollar spent on public schools in a community, home values increased $20. These findings indicate that additional school expenditures may benefit everyone in the community, whether or not those residents actually have children in the local public school system.


    Q. Can I deduct the taxes paid on my State and Federal Income Taxes?

    A. If you itemize deductions for federal income taxes, you may deduct all property taxes paid.


    Q. Is the District Financially Responsible? 

    A. We Believe We Are. The district has worked hard to be a good steward of the public’s tax money. We have a Long Term Aa1 Rating and an Underlying Aa3 Rating for Credit Program from Standard and Poors, which indicates the district’s strong creditworthiness in spite of our necessity to consecutively use reserves to fund our operations and our debt burden.


    Q. Does farm property receive some tax relief?

    A. Yes, while the proposed capital projects levy is not eligible for tax credits, agricultural property has been paying less over the last several years for RPS bonded debt. In 2017, the Minnesota Legislature approved a 40 percent tax credit for farmland school bond taxes. In 2019, the legislature approved higher tax credits to be phased in over time. In 2022, the credit was 60 percent; it grew to 70 percent in 2023 and will remain there. (Farm families pay school operating levies on 1 acre of property that includes the house and garage.)


    Q. Is our student enrollment loss comparable to that of neighboring districts?

    A. We have looked at some preliminary information that indicates that many neighboring districts have experienced some enrollment loss. However, our student loss to open enrollment is not comparable to other neighboring districts. Many districts are benefitting from our students choosing to attend their schools. We have done a survey of parents who choose to open-enroll out of our District. Many of the responses indicate that there are misconceptions about our system, including thoughts that class sizes are larger than neighboring districts, or that student behavior is significantly worse than those districts. We are working on strategies to highlight the many positive aspects of attending Willmar Public Schools.


    Q. What is the breakdown of the budget, including programming, maintenance, and other line items?

    A. This information from our audit report shows the categories in which we spend money, and the percentage of our total general fund expenditure.


    Graphic 6 General Fund Expenditures Pie Chart

    Q. How will you ensure that class sizes stay small to reduce disruptions and behaviors and allow teachers to teach effectively?

    A. Efforts will be made to keep class sizes reasonable, but the number of students in a class is not, by itself, the sole determinant of disruptions and behaviors. Please keep in mind that the number of students in a classroom is not a statistically significant factor in learning when viewed in isolation. Even a small group of students can be disruptive, so we need to ensure resources are in place to help the students self-monitor and teachers to proactively deal with behavioral issues.


    Q. How will the district make decisions regarding reductions in staff? What factors are going to be considered? 

    A. The administrators will review the impact of lost enrollment in their respective schools and look for places that we can adjust to operate more efficiently. They will also review theGuiding Change” document from the School Board, and give consideration to the stakeholders’ priority list. Many staff members are part of a bargaining unit (union), and there may be language in agreements between the District and the unions regarding layoffs. 


    Q. Are we keeping extra support staff (ex:  social workers, paraprofessionals)?  It seems like our students have benefited from this increase.

    A. There were some “extra” staff members, like social workers, who were added using COVID relief funds. We will have adequate funding to retain those positions until the spring of 2024. We are cautiously optimistic that legislative action may provide new funding for mental health support, but if they don’t, we won’t be able to retain COVID-funded positions after the funds are exhausted.


    Q. Other than staffing adjustments, what other ways will Willmar Public Schools be working to reduce spending? 

    A. There are some significant changes in plans for building improvements that can be delayed without routine upkeep and maintenance falling behind schedule. These changes reduce the expenditures by several hundred thousand dollars.


    Q. What could happen to the school buildings in the future?

    A. The Bond Referendum in 2015 allowed us to make advances in our facilities. Currently, our buildings are in great condition, but we do lack adequate space at Willmar Middle School for physical education. We are exploring options to possibly remodel some existing spaces to address this need. One of the unacceptable means of solving this issue is to allow building maintenance to fall behind.


    Q. How do property taxes in Willmar compare to neighboring districts? 

    A. Property taxes in the Willmar School District are among the lowest in the area, as is seen in the following graphic. The school board will be in communication with financial experts and the community to provide accurate and timely information should the conversation move toward tax increases.

    School Property Taxes Bar Chart

    Q. In the 1970s, there were over 1,100 students attending the existing middle school, and this year there are under 1,000 students attending the middle school. It was big enough in the 1970s, so why isn't it big enough now?

    A. School dynamics and needs have evolved significantly over time. While the school accommodated approximately 1,100 students in the 1970s, several factors, beyond just student numbers, have influenced the requirements for facilities like the gymnasium. Here are some key factors to consider:

    Delivery Model/Schedule: In the past, the Junior High operated on a trimester schedule, with students having physical education for only one trimester each year. However, with the transition to a middle school model, there has been a shift toward an every-other-day physical education class year-round. This change aligns with the belief in promoting both healthy minds and healthy bodies. From a mathematical perspective, in the 1970s, roughly 370 students participated in PE each day, whereas in our current model, about 450 students receive PE daily.

    Gymnasium Utilization: The utilization of gymnasiums has evolved over the years. Today's schools offer a broader range of activities, clubs, sports, and events that utilize the gym, some of which may not have been as prevalent in the 1969-1971 period.

    Safety and Building Codes: Standards related to safety, accessibility, and space have changed significantly over the decades. What was considered adequate or compliant in the 1970s may not meet today's rigorous safety and building standards. For instance, our current middle school gymnasium is 8,575 square feet, whereas the Minnesota Department of Education now mandates gymnasiums to be between 12,000 and 14,000 square feet, meeting storm-rating requirements for new constructions.

    Educational Requirements: The curriculum and extracurricular offerings have expanded considerably over the years. This means that our gymnasiums are now hosting a more diverse range of activities and classes than they did in the past, necessitating either more space or different scheduling arrangements.

    In light of these considerations, while the student population may be smaller today than in the 1970s, the demands and requirements for our gymnasium space have grown substantially. We continually assess our facilities to ensure they meet the evolving needs of our students and staff while adhering to modern safety and educational standards.