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Column: Building our future together

WORTHINGTON — As we continue to prepare for a new school year in Independent School District 518, there is more good news about student enrollment. We are estimating that enrollment will be 3,249 this year, or 307 more students than we taught just five years ago.

Most school districts in Minnesota are dealing with flat or declining enrollment. When enrollment drops, it means a school district receives less money from the state for teachers, equipment and programs. In ISD 518, growing enrollment means we can keep our teachers, offer a variety of classes and put aside some money in case an economic downturn strikes.

Most of you know there is one challenge that comes with growth — eventually our schools become overcrowded. Today, our teachers are using places for teaching that were designed for storage. Classrooms are bursting with eager students and, especially in our early grades, our teachers are struggling to find the space that every student needs for learning.

While most of the money for classroom operations comes from the State of Minnesota, the funds for building additional classrooms comes from local property taxpayers. Recently, we have held two bond elections to seek funding for a new high school, which would have solved our space issues for many years into the future.  

These bond referenda failed, and in talking with both supporters and opponents of the high school plan, the school board and administration concluded that a majority of residents agree that we need to address the space issues. However, some residents are looking for a plan that is a little less expensive and focused more on younger learners.

On Aug. 14, residents will have a chance to vote on a new plan. The school board is proposing a $35 million bond for a new school for grades 3-5. The location of this school will be on land that the school district already owns, just south of the middle school.

If the ballot question is approved, we will realign grades so Prairie Elementary becomes the home for preK-grade 2, and the middle school will adopt a more common structure of grades 6-8. Addressing the space needs of 10 grades of students with one project seems to be a good investment for the district.

The actual cost of the project is a little over $36 million, and the school board has committed to use our current budget reserve for any costs over the $35 million included in the bond referendum. By doing this, we are responding to the concerns of some taxpayers that wanted to see a lower tax impact for the space plan. For an owner of an average priced home, the tax impact should be about half of the previous proposal — an additional $10.13 per month for the owner of a $150,000 home.

The school board also added a second question to the ballot. Every year, I am hearing more from coaches, athletes and parents about the deteriorating conditions at our home football field and the surrounding bleachers and press box. Research showed that the entire cost of upgrading the quality of the field, track and improving the safety of the surrounding facilities will not exceed $4 million. If this is not approved, the board will need to consider other options for needed improvements.

Question #2 was approved by the school board to give residents a choice. If local taxpayers want to bond for these improvements, the cost for the owner of a $150,000 home is an additional $1.15 per month. However, if voters do not want to use bonds to pay for these improvements, we will need to look at other ways to update the quality and safety of the athletic complex.

We know we have space needs — now it is time for local residents to decide to decide if this is the right plan to address those needs. Election Day will be Aug. 14, and early voting has already begun.

I encourage you to check out our Facebook site and our new referendum web site, www.worthingtonforward.com. You can also email me at John.Landgaard@isd518.net or call me at 372-2172 for more information.

Thank you for your support of our local schools.

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