District to survey community on facilities updatesAt the same meeting where a handful of residents voiced their concerns about a lack of community input on the district’s facilities planning process, the Red Wing School Board agreed to conduct a community survey on the subject.
By: Sarah Gorvin, The Republican Eagle
At the same meeting where a handful of residents voiced their concerns about a lack of community input on the district’s facilities planning process, the Red Wing School Board agreed to conduct a community survey on the subject.
“It’s going to get us some input that we desperately need,” Board member Heidi Jones said of the survey.
Through a series of community meetings, DLR Group — the Minneapolis-based architecture firm the district tapped to study the facility needs — has narrowed the district’s options down to two.
At an estimated cost of nearly $30 million, the first would expand Burnside Elementary School to accommodate all kindergarten through fourth-graders and repurpose Sunnyside Elementary School to a pre-kindergarten center.
The second option is estimated at just more than $24 million and would expand both Burnside and Sunnyside to house kindergarten through fourth grades.
Keon Blasingame, a representative from DLR Group, told the board Monday that the survey, conducted by an outside agency, would ask community members’ feelings on those two options.
The phone survey will be conducted in the next few weeks, Blasingame said. It will use a sample of registered voters in the community. The goal is to have the survey results ready for the board to review before its Aug. 6 meeting.
“The survey will give us the window as to how accessible the options are,” Board Chair Mitch Boldt said, adding that the board can’t move forward without that information. “The feedback from the survey will be very telling.”
The board has been looking at putting a capital bond to public vote since last October. With the district’s current operating referendum expiring, the district could hold a vote on that referendum in November. Many board members feel that the capital bond should go to a vote at the same time.
Currently, the board has made no decisions on whether to put either an operating referendum or a capital bond to a vote in the upcoming November election. If the board decides to do so, the district will have until Aug. 24 to file.
The short timeline has left many community members questioning whether there is enough time for the district to determine exactly what its needs are or to educate residents about those needs.
“I get excited about a 2013 referendum,” Janie Farrar, Red Wing elementary school Parent Advisory Council co-chair, said during the meeting’s public comment portion. “I’m not that excited about a 2012 referendum.”
Farrar, speaking on behalf of about a half-dozen other parents and community members at the meeting, also questioned whether the district has gathered input from teachers and how the district plans to go about communicating with the public about its plans.
“I just really urge you to wait and hold off and make sure you’re doing it the right way,” Farrar told the board.
But the board questioned waiting on the capital bond, especially considering the long list of deferred maintenance in the district.
“How long will the high school roof hold up?” Finance Director Brad Johnson asked. The roof, which was built about 17 years ago, was designed to last 10 years.
“We don’t want to do a roof out of necessity,” Boldt agreed. “We want to do a roof with proper planning.”
Board member Steve Anderson strongly encouraged the rest of the board to put the capital bond to vote this November. He said putting it in place would keep property taxes flat. If the district does not pass the bond this year, taxes would decrease next year due to a debt service expiring and then go up the following year with a 2013 referendum, Anderson said. He called passing the bond this year and keeping property taxes steady “responsible.”
“It’s the right time to do it,” he said. “It’s the right thing.”
In addition, board members said the district has been dealing with space issues for years and have put in place several temporary solutions — such as moving fifth-graders to Twin Bluff and eighth-graders to the high school two years ago.
Last year, the closing of parochial schools including St. Joe’s added to the district’s enrollment and created bigger problems.
“It’s totally possible for us to hire a teacher and get books, but we physically don’t have a classroom to put the kids in,” Boldt said. “We are physically short of classroom space. There are no ifs, ands or buts about it.”
Supt. Karsten Anderson said he fully supports moving forward with the community survey. However, he said there are “still reservations” with the timing and questioned a 2012 referendum vote.
“Will we have enough time to educate?” he said.
The community survey will ask residents for their opinions on two facility options:
• Expand Burnside Elementary School to accommodate kindergarten through grade 4, repurpose Sunnyside Elementary School to a pre-kindergarten center and close Colvill Family Center and Jefferson School. Estimated cost: $29,979,188.
• Reconfigure both Burnside Elementary and Sunnyside Elementary schools to house kindergarten through grade 4, expand Burnside to accommodate projected enrollment growth. Estimated cost: $24,048,471.