No decision on 2012 school referendumWith two members absent from Monday’s meeting, the Red Wing School Board made no final decisions regarding an operating or facilities referendum for the November 2012 election.
By: Sarah Gorvin, The Republican Eagle
With two members absent from Monday’s meeting, the Red Wing School Board made no final decisions regarding an operating or facilities referendum for the November 2012 election.
However, the five present Board members gave the go-ahead to submit referendum questions — which would appear on the Nov. 6 ballot if they put the referendums to vote — to the Minnesota Department of Education for review and comment.
Because the deadline to submit questions is Aug. 9, board members felt that submitting their questions allows them more time to make a final decision on a 2012 vote. If they missed tomorrow’s deadline, a 2012 vote would be off the table.
“It gives us another option and time for those other two board members to sit at the table with us,” Board member Heidi Jones said.
Board Chair Mitch Boldt and member Mike Christensen were absent.
The board agreed to submit three questions for approval:
• The first question would ask voters to approve a five-year extension of the district’s current operating referendum.
• The second question would ask voters to approve a nearly $30 million facilities referendum.
• The third would ask voters to approve a $4.1 million facilities referendum for athletic facilities, namely a second sheet of ice.
The operating and facilities referendums would keep the overall tax levy flat. A portion of the district’s debt service expiring next year means the district would be able to add the facilities referendum without raising tax rates, Finance Director Brad Johnson said.
The athletic facilities referendum would raise property taxes about $8 year on a house valued at $100,000.
The board decided on those three questions based on a recommendation from consulting and architecture firm DLR Group.
Over the last several months, DLR has evaluated the physical condition of the district’s buildings, evaluated educational spaces and conducted community meetings. From that information, DLR presented several options on how to update the district’s buildings. Using a phone survey, which was conducted in the last couple of weeks, they narrowed the options down to one: expand Burnside Elementary School to house all kindergarten through fourth-grade students.
The facilities referendum would also address the district’s deferred maintenance and make changes to educational spaces at the middle and high schools.
The cost would be just under $30 million, but would save the district about $250,000 a year in operating costs by closing Colvill Family Center and Jefferson school and moving their services to the Sunnyside Elementary building.
Because of that savings, board members felt they could keep the operating referendum flat.
“If we’re going for (a facilities referendum) that’s going to save us operationally, it gives us the opportunity to keep (an operating referendum) flat,” Johnson said.
Because input from the community phone survey was divided on whether to support the athletic facilities referendum, DLR suggested making that a separate question.
Supt. Karsten Anderson again brought up concerns with a 2012 election, citing a short time frame to gather community and district staff input.
“This is a big deal for the community,” he said. “I want to make sure it’s the right option … and we’ve gone through the process of gathering input.”
“Time is our enemy,” Board Vice Chair Dennis Porter agreed.
DLR representative Jennifer Anderson-Tuttle told the board that a 2012 facilities referendum is still possible and there is just enough time to schedule informational community meetings.
Anderson-Tuttle added that should the board decide to wait for a 2013 vote, the current cost estimates on facility improvements would no longer be valid; construction costs could go up as much as 4 percent in that time.
“In some ways, time is of the essence,” she said. “Rates are picking up.”
Board member Steve Anderson again pushed the board to approve a 2012 referendum vote, adding that community members seem to be behind the Burnside addition.
“The only negative thing is they wish Burnside wasn’t so far from town,” Anderson said. “Well, we can’t change that.”
That’s the only school that has room for additions, he noted.
“Let’s not be afraid,” he continued. “Let’s know that it’s time to stop putting Band-Aids on it and fix it.”
Other board members were more cautious.
“I don’t think we’ve done as well as we would like,” Heidi Jones said of communicating the district’s needs to the public. She added that she would be nervous about the outcome of a 2012 vote.
The board has until Aug. 24 to submit questions to the Goodhe County auditor for inclusion on the ballot. A final decision will need to be made at the Aug. 20 board meeting.
The phone survey
DLR Group had third-party company Patron Insight conduct a phone survey of registered Red Wing School District voters to gauge their support for a facilities referendum.
The company was able to reach 380 residents. The survey lasted about 10 minutes.
Respondents were asked if they would support a referendum that would fund additions to Burnside and Sunnyside Elementary schools to allow each of them to house kindergarten through grade 4; 60 percent said they would strongly support or support this option.
The second option they were asked about was renovating Burnside to house all kindergarten through grade 4 and repurposing Sunnyside into a pre-kindergarten center; 53 percent said they would strongly support or support this option.
“The difference in support for the two options is not dramatic, but there is evidence of option one being the modest preference throughout the survey,” the final report states.
Still, DLR Group recommended that the district go with option 2, which would consolidate all elementary grades to Burnside.