Volunteer Katie Simenson (from left) counts ballots Monday night at Burlington High School along with School Board Secretary Susan Kessler and Business Manager Peter Smet. District residents attending the meeting voted down a motion to freeze the tax levy at last year's level and approved a motion to increase the levy by 3.69 percent. (Photo by Ed Nadolski)

After school district electors voted down keeping a flat tax levy Monday night — and a challenge by opponents to try and stop another vote on the tax levy increase  — the voters overwhelming approved the proposed tax levy of $20.37 million as originally proposed by the Burlington Area School District Board of Education in August.

Monday’s meeting of school district residents attracted roughly 800 people to the Burlington High School gym and was marked by impassioned pleas by people supporting both sides of the votes.

The pivotal vote was 511 for the proposed levy, and 194 against it. In the earlier vote, 246 people voted for keeping the tax levy at the 2010-11 level ($19.65 million) and 518 voted against it. This means the tax levy for this school year will increase by 3.69 percent. Had voters opted for a levy freeze — and if the School Board would have accepted it — administrators would have had to cut nearly $750,000 out of the current budget.

The School Board is scheduled to meet Tuesday, Nov. 1, to officially approve the tax levy. The meeting is set for 6:45 p.m. at the school district office, 100 N. Kane Street.

For more on Monday’s meeting of the electors, please see the text of the live meeting blog below:

7:34 p.m. – Hi, everyone. We’re here and online, and David Thompson, the school board president is just getting everything started. He’s asking people for nominations for chairperson, Thompson and John Anderson were both just nominated for chairperson.

7:36 p.m. – There is a police presence here tonight (two City of Burlington officers), and while the gymnasium isn’t packed, it’s pretty full. Thompson is doing a standing vote for chairperson, and he won. Another person in the seats wants a division of the vote, and they are calling for an actual count of the voters who are standing. Peter Smet has just announced that there are citizens to help with the counting, and people are starting to count. Interestingly enough, John Anderson – who was nominated as chairperson – stood up for Thompson to run the meeting, as did the entire school board.

7:42 p.m. – While the counting is going on, it’s worthy to note that the opponents to the tax levy are taking up the front row on one side of the gym, while there is a large teacher presence on the other side of the gym. There is a good variety of people here – young and old, teachers, non-teachers, opponents to the proposed levy and supporters of it.

7:48 p.m. – 167 votes for John Anderson, 418 votes for David Thompson. Thompson will be the chair, as Board Clerk Susan Kessler just announced. Thompson is now reminding everyone of the ground rules – who an elector is (any resident 18 or older who lives in the school district who is a U.S. citizen), seating arrangements (electors and non-electors, with non-electors sitting in the back of the gymnasium), vote counting and challenges.

7:55 p.m. – Thompson has clarified that the majority of procedural votes going on tonight will be done by standing vote, while the tax levy votes will be done by written ballot. As shown already, Kessler has deputized some people to help with the vote counts.

7:55 p.m. – Roger Koldeway just made a motion to allow all eligible voters to speak, and Jordan Debbink seconded it. Thompson overruled it for now, by order of the parlimentarian, so David Moyer, the BASD Superintendent can make his presentation.

7:57 p.m. – Moyer just laid out the basic history of what’s been going on, and also asked that people remain civil and not speak while others are speaking. He also said Peter Smet will be able to refute incorrect information or support accurate information.

8:00 p.m. – Moyer just said that there are at least 25 districts who have raised the tax levy this year, with BASD ranking 13th. “There are exactly 12 above and 12 below.”

8:05 p.m. – Thompson is now dealing with the motion from Koldeway, and there is no discussion. This means, Thompson points out, that only qualified electors will be allowed to speak if this motion passes. He also refers back to the ground rules, which shows that property owners in the district are allowed to speak as well, and they would be voted out. We’re doing another standing vote, and it’s going to be counted immediately, rather than letting it be estimated. This proposal appears to have more balanced support than the Anderson vs. Thompson chairman vote, and the whole school board appeared to stand in support of this motion.

8:10 p.m. – The vote is 226 yes, 399 no votes. So everyone can speak. Please note we have not gotten to the first resolution, which is to keep last year’s tax levy.

8:15 p.m. – The motion on the floor is to approve the first resolution, and people are now coming up to speak.

8:20 p.m. – A lot of people are commenting, I’ll update during the voting process. I would like to point out that there are clearly divided lines here, either on the side of no increase or speaking for the tax increase. One woman has stood up to call the decision to cut the tax levy “at best, short sighted. We cannot afford a freeze, or not to vote for this tax levy.” She also said she is “distressed” by the intensity of some of the opinions being voiced.

8:26 p.m. – Josh Dow just stood up and pointed out that many teachers here are taxpayers and live here. “We are voting to raise our own taxes.”

8:35 p.m. – This is getting to be a lot of give and take, people taking very definite positions. We’ve had some flat-out attacks against the teachers and the board, and some flat-out calls of misinformation on part of those opposing the tax.

8:40 p.m. – There are a lot of people talking about the costs of education and the fact that the district is still raising taxes in the face of declining enrollment. Both sides are citing the declining enrollment in support of their position.

8:48 p.m. – Vote on this motion, the discussion is done. The discussion took about 30 minutes. Thompson is pointing out that we’re on ballot one, and that is the resolution to keep a flat tax rate for the coming school year. He has also reexplained that now.

9:05 p.m. – Yes, we are still counting the votes – on the first resolution. Please hold. There have been no challenges of anyone voting so far. We’ll see if that holds.

9:09 p.m. – David Thompson has asked everyone to take their seats, and has said they are working out a few ballots that appear to be vague.

9:10 p.m. – The vote is in: 246 vote yes, 518 vote no. The motion is defeated. Thompson is now entertaining a motion on the second resolution – the one to approve the proposed levy by the board. There is a motion and a second (as well as one wit who added a “third”). Phil Ketterhagen has now pointed out that this is an illegal vote because it has already been voted down. He is quoting chapter and verse, and points out that the petition only addressed keeping the tax levy flat. “There is no way in state statutes that you can resurrect the $20 million vote.” Thompson says he is waiting for a ruling from the parliamentarian, who is a representative from a state or area organization I did not catch.

9:15 p.m. – The parliamentarian has ruled that the board can consider the resolution and take the vote.

9:17 p.m. – Paul Haynes moves the question, which has been seconded. It appears the vote is moving forward.

9:20 p.m. – A quick clarification: the parliamentarian is Gary Ruesch, the district’s legal counsel from Buelow Vetter. And a lot of people appear to be leaving now – before or after they voted is unsure.

9:34 p.m. – The board-proposed tax levy vote is finished. The vote is 511 yes, 194 nos. The motion carries. And the meeting adjourns with no further discussion.

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