Special Report: Many schools asking voters for financial help

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KIMT News 3 – Come election day, voters will finally have their chance to choose the leaders of the nation, states, counties, and cities.  In Southern Minnesota, there’s also a high likelihood that voters will see school referendums on their ballot.

Here’s a sampling of districts asking for increased funding from local property taxpayers on November 8:

Byron Public Schools: Bond issue for $10,290,000 for betterment of school facilities

Chatfield Public Schools: Bond issue for more than $10,800,000 for betterment of school facilities

LeRoy-Ostrander Public School: Bond issue for $15,950,000 for betterment of school facilities

Mabel-Canton Public Schools: Referendum to increase revenue by $409.60 per pupil

St. Charles Public Schools: Bond issue for $12,400,000 for betterment of school facilities

Triton Public Schools: Referendum to increase revenue by $750 per pupil

Kingsland Public Schools: Referendum to replace a previous referendum with a new one appointing $760 per pupil AND bond issue for $13,715,000 for betterment of facilities.

In Spring Valley, Kingsland Superintendent John McDonald says his district is asking voters to approve two distinct measures for a very good reason.

“You can do one without the other, but if you pass the operating referendum the facilities we have now would be draining on that operations,” McDonald said.  “The operating referendum would not sustain our present facilities as they are we would need additional help in the future.”

Kingsland school leaders are hoping to tackle some serious maintenance projects that they say the current funding levels haven’t allowed them to keep up on, while consolidating the district buildings into one location in Spring Valley, and expanding that location by adding a gymnasium, performing arts center, and early childhood education center.

One reason so many school districts are asking for help from taxpayers is because their enrollment is declining.  Schools are paid by the state based on the number of pupils attending class, so smaller districts see steep declines in revenue when students leave, but the facilities remain – needing maintenance and upkeep.  This has resulted in many districts consolidating and closing facilities.

“If you’re a homeowner, you know that everything is time sensitive and sooner or later shingles have to be replaced on the roof, a house has to be repainted. Things have to be replaced,” McDonald said.

Meanwhile, McDonald says Kingsland has found another way to stem the tide: improve their offerings.

Kingsland was recently featured in a national publication for the district’s commitment to teaching science and other STEM subjects, and McDonald says that’s where the solutions to declining enrollment lie.  The problem is, they need facilities that can handle the programs, and they need buildings that are maintained.  Because that’s a stretch under the current funding scenarios, they’re turning to the voters for help.

“We would have the dollars necessary to offer the education that we feel we need to offer here at Kingsland to be competitive and also to give a great education to our kids,” McDonald said.

Still, it can be a tall order to convince a person to raise his own property taxes.  In the Kingsland district, the resulting increase in the property taxes paid by the owner of a $150,000 home would grow by $178.81 if both ballot questions are approved.

More info: Property tax example: $150,000 home in Spring Valley, MN

To convince people of the need, Kingsland leaders are taking several steps to spread the word about the plans.  They’ve developed a thorough website on the issue, and school board members have even posted a series of YouTube videos answering the questions they receive most often.

“As a school district, we won’t tell people how they should vote,” McDonald said. “But we want to tell people what is being asked for so they’re well-informed so that they can use their values.”

While most voters will consider the bottom line, McDonald has one final message: consider what “the bottom line” really means.

“If this is the bottom line, what can I expect from that bottom line?  What will my kids receive? What will that education look like at Kingsland? How will that benefit our children now presently, and how will that benefit our children in the future?”

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