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Voters say no to West Central Area referendums

Voters in the West Central Area School District soundly defeated a proposed $12.25 million referendum Tuesday to add on to the secondary school in Barrett.

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The project would have added pre-K to 5th grade space, resulting in the closing of elementary schools in Kensington and Elbow Lake.

The proposal was defeated by a three-to-one ratio, with 479 voters supporting the project and 1,515 voting against it.

Voters also defeated a second question on the ballot that would have continued a $1,447.78 per pupil referendum for another 10 years. The vote was 810 “yes” votes to 1,157 “no” votes.

School leaders said they were disappointed with the outcome but pointed out some encouraging signs as well.

“The big voter turnout [more than 60 percent] was a positive thing,” said Superintendent Pat Westby. “It shows that we have people who are passionate about education, which is a good thing. That’s the beauty of an election. People have told us that they’re so thankful to be able to vote.”

A local group that opposed the closing of the elementary schools, “Save Our Community Schools,” was very pleased with the results of the vote on question one, the building project, according to Zach Gordon, a spokesperson.

“We feel refreshed and encouraged by the extremely high voter turnout,” he said. “The democratic process worked, but now it is time to work with our community members, school board and school administration to put together a plan that will sustain our schools and the communities they serve.”

With voters having spoken, the school board will go back to the drawing board.

“We’ll go back to work and continue to operate the district as efficiently as we possibly can, as we’ve done in the past,” Westby said.

The superintendent added that the district is in good financial shape, with a healthy fund balance.

“We’ll offer good things to students and keep going forward on our long-range plan, not just for two or three years, but for the next 10,” Westby said. “We will continue to reshape our vision and move forward.”

With the per-pupil referendum expiring in 2015, the “fire to the school board’s feet” will get hotter, said Westby, but the board is already starting to plan for the 2016-2017 school year.

“People have been asking me this morning what Plan B is,” Westby said. “We’re not sure yet, but the board will go back to work and formulate a plan and we’ll continue to offer good things for kids.”


In another school referendum in the area, Parkers Prairie voters approved a $1 million capital project levy by a wide margin.

A total of 238 voters supported it and 81 voted no.

The money will be used for facility maintenance and technology projects over the next 10 years. The district will receive $100,000 in new tax money every year that will go into a designated account to pay for capital projects only.

The tax impact on residential homesteads valued at $100,000, for example, is estimated at $20 per year, while owners of commercial/industrial property valued at $200,000 will pay an additional $90 per year.

Tax refunds will be available for qualifying homeowners through the state’s circuit breaker program.

Al Edenloff
Al Edenloff is the news and opinion page editor for the Echo Press. He was born in Alexandria and lived most of his childhood in Parkers Prairie. He graduated with honors from Moorhead State University with a degree in mass communications, print journalism. He interned at the Echo Press in the summer of 1983 and was hired a year later as a sports reporter. He also worked as a news reporter/photographer. Al is a four-time winner of the Minnesota Newspaper Association's Herman Roe Award, which honors excellence in editorial writing.  
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