La Crescent-Hokah School District staff and its supporters breathed a sigh of relief Tuesday night after voters approved an operating levy that they argued will help to avoid further painful cutbacks in school budgets.

Voters backed the 10-year levy by a 1797-854 margin with a voter turnout just shy of 50 percent in the referendum. The levy will replace the existing $235 per pupil levy and replace it with an $850 per student levy that will bring in an estimated $1 million annually. According to the district’s levy calculator, the increase will cost the owner of a $100,000 home an additional $101 in annual taxes, or $201 for the owner of a $200,000 home.

“I look at what this community has done in the last year, and it’s just a great thing,” said superintendent Kevin Cardille Tuesday night, after announcing the official results to administrative staff gathered in the lobby of the district offices.

“What I’d like to see, is every kid in the district go hug their parents, grandparents and their neighbors, and thank them for the support — and then for the parents and grandparents to hug those kids back, because they are why we are here.”

After failing to pass a similar operating levy last November, the district was forced to cut about $300,000 from expenses last school year, and had to dip into its reserves to make up for the rest of the loss.

To prevent another loss, district advocacy group Lancer Strong campaigned relentlessly beginning this summer in favor of the levy, and to bring awareness to the special election.

Members of the group made calls to registered voters, and stood on a downtown corner with “Vote Yes” signs on the morning and afternoon of election day. An hour before the polls had closed, a group of about 20 Lancer Strong members met at the Sports Hub for a voting results gathering.

“When this whole Lancer Strong thing started, we sent out letters to the local businesses explaining that our ‘strong schools, strong communities’ motto is meant to be an ongoing effort,” said Teresa Odonnell-Ebner, one of the founding members of the group. “And passing this levy is the first step.”

After the 2,652 ballots were tallied and the results were announced, the gathering at the Sports Hub had morphed into a roaring celebration.

“It’s not just about the school district in general, it’s about the value of our property, and all the small and local businesses that are impacted by our schools,” said Hokah resident Tara Grattan, who has three students in the district. “If this was a no-vote, we could’ve had a number of families bailing from our community, and businesses folding. This is huge for us.”

Cardille said he was hoping for 70 percent support in the vote, but was more than satisfied with the outcome of the election.

“Now we can take a breath or two, and clean up this mess so we can move forward,” said Cardille of the next steps for the district. “I’ve been trying to give our staff the opportunity to start thinking creatively about what good things we can do for kids, and it’s always been stymied by the fact that money was an issue — and that’s no longer the hurdle we have to get over.”

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