Q: Why does the district need a technology levy?
A: Unlike many states, Minnesota does not provide school districts with aid for technology needs. This means that, in districts without a special levy, technology needs compete with other classroom needs. The first Orono Schools technology levy was approved in 2002. Voters renewed that commitment in 2011 for 10 years. The existing technology levy—dollars you are currently paying through property taxes—expires in 2021. Without a voter-approved levy to replace this one, approximately $1.1 million of technology funding will disappear. The district is asking voters to revoke the existing levy and replace it with a new 10-year levy (see the Tax Impact webpage for details).
Unlike any other time in its history, the district has had to rely on technology infrastructure and educational tools to provide a consistent teaching and learning environment both on and off campus to support all learners. The demands on our aging system are often evident by slow Internet speeds, "dropping" connections, etc. Replacement and maintenance of core technology infrastructure, on an industry best-practices schedule, will ensure stable and reliable systems for all learners.
Q: What does it mean to revoke and replace a levy?
A: The State of Minnesota puts time limits on capital project levies (like technology). The current Orono Schools technology levy will expire in 2021. Districts often seek voter approval for a replacement levy just ahead of the expiration date. If approved by voters in November 2020, the existing levy will be revoked/canceled and the new levy will take its place. This is not a new levy on top of an existing one.
Q: Why are you asking for an increase over the 2011 levy? And why is the amount lower than in 2019?
A: We listened. Following the levy defeat in 2019, district staff and finance committee members re-evaluated and identified only the most critical technology needs for the next 10 years. They came back to the School Board with a smaller levy request. This is a bare-bones levy proposal. Please see “The Need” on this website for deeper budget detail and discussion of four key areas. Even with a small levy increase, Orono Schools' spending on technology will still be much lower than neighboring districts.
Q. Has the district been implementing infrastructure updates over the past 18 years of the levy (first approved in 2002 and renewed in 2011)?
A. Yes. Funds for technology have been well managed over the last 18 years. But the pace of change and rising costs have dictated the types of projects the district has been able to undertake. For example, one costly change over time is the industry’s shift to a “Software as a Service” model that requires monthly subscription fees for not only educational software, but external security systems, network/data security protections, etc. The district has managed consistent, periodic expenditures to keep software and hardware systems operational; however, there are “one-time” upgrades—with a longer useful life—that are needed to manage demand and bandwidth for more complex academic and business applications. For instance, the replacement of the WiFi network districtwide. We’ve boosted our systems as much as we can with the infrastructure foundation built many years ago.
Q: Does technology really help students learn? I didn't have technology in school.
A: As educators, our job is to prepare students for their next step, whether that be the next grade in school, college or career after high school. Research shows that educational technology fosters deeper learning, individualized instruction, increased comprehension, engagement, collaboration, research skills and critical thinking. Preparation for life after high school—where technology plays a key role in nearly every job and industry—drives us to teach and shape successful learners, and leaders, of tomorrow.
Our community also supports technology education. In a recent survey, community members were asked, "How important is the ability to use computers and other technology effectively and efficiently for today's students?" 84% said those skills are absolutely essential or very important.
Q: How is the funding used?
A: By law, technology levy funds can only pay for technology. Please visit The Need webpage for details and a 10-year plan. Designated funding will be used for core technology infrastructure, equipment/devices, systems and software, and support staff. With designated technology funding, the district has been able to accelerate personalized learning for all students, continue to fund Orono PLUS (our one-on-one initiative) and facilitate parent involvement through systems such as ParentVUE, Schoology, and Seesaw.
Q: Who monitors spending of technology levy funds?
A: The Orono Schools Business Services staff, School Board members, and district finance committee (which includes community members), has oversight over responsible spending. The district carefully manages taxpayer dollars and has operated within 2% of its annual budget for more than nine years. Mr. John Morstad, Orono Schools' Director of Business Services, has achieved the ASBO Certified Administrator of School Finance and Operations® (SFO®) designation.
Since 2017, the district has received a Certificate of Excellence in Financial Reporting from The Association of School Business Officials International (ASBO) for financial reporting and transparency. The district has earned Moody's long-term rating of Aa2 (high quality and very low credit risk), a ranking above the U.S. school district median. On November 12, 2019, the Orono School Board received a clean audit report from the independent audit firm of Malloy, Montague, Karnowski, Radosevich & Co., P.A.