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No. 3: Red Wing, Goodhue pass referendums

Editor's note: This story is part of a series looking back at some of the biggest stories of 2018. Find the rest of the series here: Top Ten 2018.

After failing in their first attempts, the Red Wing and Goodhue school districts each passed their respective referendums on Nov. 6 during the midterm elections. Both districts credited improved communication with voters as a key to success.

The Red Wing School District posed a two-question referendum to increase the operating levy, as the existing one was set to expire in 2019. Both questions passed, boosting the levy to $1,200 per pupil for five years, plus an additional $450 per student.

The district's 2017 attempt failed, but cutting $3.2 million from that plan and tying the 2018 referendum into the long-term planning—which was clearly explained to the public—resulted in 60 percent of voters saying "yes" and nearly 57 percent saying "yes" again.

"Our committee focused on helping voters understand that this referendum affected everyone, not just families with children," yes-yes committee member Jennifer Beck said. "We emphasized one-on-one conversations and connections to help spread the word that strong schools are important for a strong economy."

Question 1 revenue will continue the current level of educational and extracurricular programming in the district. With Question 2 passing, the district can adopt more science, technology, engineering, arts and math—or STEAM—curriculum, expand mental health and behavioral services, and develop more career and college readiness opportunities.

Eventually, the district will introduce the Winger Flight Path Model, helping students develop a plan towards career and college readiness, starting in early childhood and continuing through their senior year. The district will work with local businesses, Minnesota State College Southeast, and community members that will allow students to explore many career options.

Goodhue's bond vote

Different than Red Wing, Goodhue Public School District sought bonding to help renovate its 1935 school building.

Despite dealing with out-of-date classrooms, HVAC systems that go back to the 1930s and '50s, and a lack of space, the school district failed to pass a two-question referendum in May.

Similar to Red Wing, the district cut $3.9 million from the plan and again went to voters. The two-question referendum passed totaling $29 million.

School Board Chair Ann Buck said they came with a more "transparent" plan, saying it was difficult to explain and absorb all of the costs and information, but facility committee members spent the six months between elections to education the public.

The district also was able to help secure the Ag2School Tax Credit, so 37.44 percent of the cost will go to owners of agricultural land while the state of Minnesota takes on 24.96 percent. The state also granted the district state aid of 4.6 percent.

The total cost to local taxpayers will be $20.1 million, with the state contributing $8.5 million.

A committee met earlier this month to begin the design phase, with community members, faculty and school board members discussing where classrooms will go and how the school building will look for the years to come.

According to the Minnesota School Boards Association, the state saw numerous referendum votes in 2018, with 19 of 25 districts passing at least one question. For the calendar year, 31 out of 45 districts passed at least one question. The results from districts with operating levy questions shows 24 of 35 passed at least one operating levy question.

Matthew Lambert

Matthew Lambert joined the Red Wing Republican Eagle in March 2018 covering school board, public safety, and writing features. Lambert previously wrote for the Pierce County Herald and River Falls Journal. He is a graduate of Winona State University with a Bachelor's degree in Mass Communication: Journalism. 

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