School district answers new school questionsSchool District 206 voters are getting ready to mark their ballots. On Tuesday, September 27, district voters will decide whether to build a new high school in Alexandria.
School District 206 voters are getting ready to mark their ballots.
On Tuesday, September 27, district voters will decide whether to build a new high school in Alexandria.
This article concludes a four-part series explaining the $65.15 million building bond referendum, focusing on the project, the need, the cost and answering questions posed within the community.
People living in the community submitted questions about the upcoming bond referendum to the Echo Press.
Here are the school district’s answers:
Q1. If the bond is approved, grades will be reconfigured to put 9-12th into the new school and move 6th graders into middle school. Wouldn’t this hurt the small elementary schools in the district that have 6th graders?
The school board recognizes that schools are part of a community’s identity and vibrancy and, as such, has remained committed to the elementary schools that serve our rural communities of Garfield, Miltona, and Carlos. A grade configuration of 6-8 at the middle school would create opportunities and efficiencies – 6th graders interested in the music programs could participate on site rather than having to leave their elementary building to go to Discovery as is the current practice; and they could participate in elective course offerings at an earlier age that might open their world to career interests. Finally, changing to K-5 schools reduces crowding in all our elementaries.
Q2. Why not remodel Jefferson? Wouldn’t that be a lot cheaper? I heard it would cost only about one-fourth the amount of the referendum.
Renovation wouldn’t solve the issues identified. To fix leaks and update the mechanical and electrical systems would cost approximately $17 million but wouldn’t address Jefferson’s facilities issues as identified by the school board and construction experts. An extensive renovation would cost approximately $40 million and still wouldn’t address issues such as needed space for learning, athletics and extra-curricular; appropriate building design for today’s educational standards; safety/security issues; and flexible technology infrastructure. The recommendation to build new is based on several years of research, planning and listening – including community and expert opinion.
Q3. Why not expand at Jefferson’s current location? There seems to be plenty of room there.
Jefferson’s present 49-acre site is land-locked and well below current recommendation of a minimum of 100 acres for a high school. The existing building has undersized classrooms, narrow hallways, undersized and too few music rooms and an overcrowded cafeteria and commons. In addition, the limited outdoor physical education space and inadequate activities space means students must go off-site for most athletic practices and games. Expanding on the current site would not solve many issues and would exacerbate others.
Q4. The referendum seems to include a lot of luxury items, like a performing arts auditorium and an activities center. Isn’t this getting away from academics?
The building design supports a comprehensive, well-rounded education, which includes academics, arts and athletics. It has two three-story academic wings designed for increasingly challenging educational standards. The academic wings hold 36 classrooms, science labs, 12 flexible learning spaces, special education classrooms, a technology/engineering lab, art rooms and a media center. The arts and athletics spaces are designed for both school and community use. There is also potential for increased local community revenue totaling more than $1 million per year through purchases of gas, food, hotels and other shopping, by hosting community athletics and arts events in a new larger high school – things that Jefferson can’t hold (from a St. Cloud State University study).
Q5. Jefferson students typically perform very well on the statewide tests every year. If they’re doing so well where they are, why do we need a new building?
We are very proud of our students and our staff for the outstanding work they do every day. However, it is becoming increasingly challenging to provide a 21st century education in a building designed in the 1950s. Our students have grown up in a digital world that didn’t exist when Jefferson was built. They now use technology daily as a tool for learning. The technology at the new high school would be state-of-the-art, including both wireless and hard-wired connections throughout the building. Teachers need flexible learning spaces and updated science labs to address changing educational standards.
Q6. Is the $65 million bond just the beginning of more spending? The high school will be more expensive to run once it opens, such as additional maintenance and operational costs. Won’t this trigger an operating levy down the road?
The school district is planning for slightly increased operating costs that would accompany a new high school (such as additional custodial and buildings/grounds staff), some of which will be offset by the energy savings a new high school would bring. Based on the state and school funding situation at the time, the school district will address the need to renew or increase its operating levy when it expires in 2014.
Q7. Because the state eliminated the Homestead Market Value Credit, won’t some residents face a “double whammy” tax increase if the referendum is approved – higher taxes from local governments and the new referendum tax?
While there was a change in tax law, the district’s referendum tax impact chart reflects that change. The old law (Market Value Tax Credit) and new law (Homestead Market Value Exclusion) both provided some type of tax relief for homes valued under $413,800, they just did it in different ways. Visit www.alexandria.k12.mn.us/referendum, click on “Tax Calculator” in the left sidebar and you can determine the estimated tax impact on your home due to the referendum, which takes into account the change in tax law.
Q8. Who can vote on the referendum? It doesn’t seem fair that tech students and others who won’t be impacted by the cost can still vote.
Like all votes in a democracy, this referendum is open to all registered voters. Even those who don’t pay property tax live in the community, and thus are affected by the quality of the schools.
Q9. Does the $65 million referendum include the interest costs of the project? How much would that be?
The $65.15 million cost to taxpayers does not include interest. Tax impact estimates (and the District’s Web Tax Calculator) include payment of both principal and interest. If the bonds are sold at a lower interest rate, the cost of the project and tax impact on residents will be less than what was projected.
Q10. A lot of attention has been given to the fact that Jefferson is forced to use temporary classrooms because of its lack of space. We’ve had basically the same number of grade 10-12 students for the last 30 years. There is no projection of student growth in the next 10 years. So do we even need the temporary classrooms anymore?
The portables were built 35 years ago as “temporary” and remain in use today because of the overcrowding in the building. These aging portable classrooms are used for the following classes: health/wellness, combined English/social studies, special education EBD program, industrial technology (architectural/drafting), and study hall. Building a new high school would replace these with new, permanent classrooms. This project was never enrollment-driven – the new high school is based on needs identified by the community and school board in the long-range two-phase facilities plan.
Q11. Lincoln was built in the same era as Jefferson, both buildings are structurally sound. Why is Lincoln worthy of heating, plumbing, electrical and ventilating system upgrades and not Jefferson?
Lincoln and Jefferson are two different buildings, used for different purposes. Lincoln is an elementary school and its programming, technology, space and security needs are less complex and easier to solve with a remodel than Jefferson. Lincoln has adequate corridor space for student circulation and all parts of the one-story building are accessible; there is no space to widen Jefferson’s hallways, make it more accessible nor to enlarge the cafeteria, media center, music areas without affecting other areas. Lincoln is a one-story building and the code-required new ductwork was fit into the roof/ceiling space. Jefferson does not have enough space for ductwork between the first and second story. Jefferson has additional parking and drainage problems that Lincoln does not have. Jefferson’s building and rooms are not adequate size; it has utilized “temporary” classrooms as well as several additions over the years. The size of Lincoln’s outdoor space is appropriate for an elementary school, where Jefferson’s is not.
Q12. How do we know we won’t need more school space in the future? Even the school administration believes it is very difficult to anticipate what kind of spaces will be needed for learning even in five years.
The building design allows for flexible learning spaces and the ability to support current and future technology needs, as well as science labs to address increasingly challenging education standards. This project was never enrollment-driven – the new high school is based on needs identified by the community and school board in the long-range two-phase facilities plan. It also allows the district to include 9th-graders in the high school, which provides them with a more comprehensive, college and career-prep curriculum.
Q13. What is more important? Schools that are well funded to pay qualified teachers and provide fully funded programs? Or bricks and mortar?
Both are important. Quality staff still need appropriate space, facilities, technology and equipment in order to adequately teach their students.
Q14. With tight state and school district finances, shouldn’t we focus on the district’s operating budget and not a new high school?
Operating budgets and capital (building and maintenance) budgets are two separate pots of money – with laws detailing what they can and can’t be used for. Both are important, and the school board is responsible for overseeing proper use of both operating and capital funds. It would be irresponsible for the school district to ignore building needs and only focus on operating expenses – and vice versa. The new high school is part of the district’s two-phase long-range facilities plan, which was developed with extensive community input over the last several years.
Q15. Locally, the taxpayers of the school district are already responsible for $120 million in debt (city, county, and school district). Is it prudent to take on an additional $100 million in debt obligation (principal and interest) for a new school building?
A community grows by investing itself. The city, county and schools are all responsible for different parts of this community’s infrastructure. Currently, School District 206 is at less than 7 percent of its legal debt limit. Our existing debt service is $40.345 million, or 6.6 percent of the legal limit of $608 million, based on 2009 market value.
Q16. Are the costs of the athletic fields included in the referendum and if so, are the costs for completely finished fields or just roughly graded areas?
The costs of the athletic fields are included in the referendum and yes, they are for completely finished fields.