On Feb. 4, voters in the Trout Lake School District will decide whether to approve a maintenance and operations levy for the schools.
The special election submits the following proposition to local voters: "For maintenance and operations purposes, shall Trout Lake School District No. 400 be authorized to levy excess taxes for two consecutive years, as follows: a) to collect $186,000 in 2004, at an estimated tax rate of $2.24 per $1,000 of assessed valuation, and b) to collect $186,000 in 2005 at an estimated tax rate of $2.20 per $1,000 of assessed valuation?"
According to Doug Dearden, assistant principal at the school, the levy is sorely needed.
"We don't know what will happen in the Legislature with funding," Dearden said. "We've planned for the worst-case scenario with the Legislature, and this levy vote will be very critical to us."
Because it is a tax measure, a supermajority of at least 60 percent of the vote is required to pass the levy.
Dale Connell, who serves as chairman of the Trout Lake Levy Committee, said the school district will have to make some tough decisions if the levy does not gain approval.
"If this were not to pass, that would hurt -- not just basic education, but also a lot of services and extracurricular activities very dear to students' and parents' hearts," Connell said.
Connell added that the M&O levy does not increase what Trout Lake residents currently pay.
"This is a replacement levy in every sense of the word," Connell explained.
"There are no extras here," added Dearden. "It's just to support programs we have in place."
Connell noted that asking local property owners to contribute to the operation of schools is an unfortunate reality.
"Only a percentage of the funding for basic education comes from the state -- the rest falls on us taxpayers," he said.
Stan Rapp, a Trout Lake resident who serves on the school's Levy Committee, said he wasn't sure what would happen if the levy is not passed.
Rapp said the programs in line to be cut are "near the top of the pile."
"Special education, athletics, music, the Destination Imagination program. The `frills,' or what some people consider frills," Rapp explained. "If it's cut to the bone, transportation could be cut, and any of the things not considered mainline education in the classrooms. It's a minefield."
Rapp said he believed that eliminating extracurricular programs would be counterproductive.
"For example, athletics teaches responsibility and teamwork," Rapp said. "I was in athletics, and I think it helped me."
Rapp pointed out that, like many local residents, he has a personal stake in the outcome of the election.
"I have six grandkids at the school, so it's natural to have an interest," Rapp said.
Dearden said he was optimistic the community would continue to support the school district.
"This community has always been very, very generous and supportive of its school," Dearden said. "We have a great group of parents and great group of kids here. It's a tremendous place to be in terms of education. So we're positive and hopeful, but realize it's a difficult time with the economy."
"Times are tough," added Connell. "I'm optimistic, but you never know. We encourage people to get out and vote."
History may be on the side of Trout Lake schools. The last time an M&O levy was on the ballot -- in February 2001 -- the measure was approved with support from almost 64 percent of the voters.
Voters can cast their ballots at the Trout Lake Grange. The polling site will be open from 7 a.m. until 8 p.m. on Election Day.