Consultant recommends May vote for MPS

Highest priority items include safety and security improvements, a solution for West Side and early childhood programming and space

Photo by Jenny Kirk Consultant Pat Overom walks board members through key points he identified regarding Marshall Public Schools’ long-range facilities planning, which includes his recommendation to seek voter approval of a referendum in May.

MARSHALL — After spending extensive time listening and learning, Pat Overom of ICS Consulting recommends that Marshall Public Schools ask voters to approve a May referendum to fund what he refers to as Priority 1 needs in the district.

At a special school board meeting Monday afternoon, Overom pointed out that the district had made strides in trying to address some of its continual challenges related to the changes and evolution in educational programs, enrollment growth, changes in curriculum and keeping pace with needed repairs and physical facility improvements within the different buildings, and that while the past two referendums failed, he acknowledged that the needs haven’t went away.

“So you’re tasked to try and continue, as cost-effectively as possible, make progress and bite away at those needs moving forward,” Overom said.

After methodically collecting input from individual and small group interviews, separate administrative, school board and community work sessions, district staff online survey and parent/family online survey, Overom identified common themes and observations.

“We asked all these groups what should be considered high priorities,” he said. “Three items came back as the highest priority items: early childhood programming and space, safety and security improvements and looking for a solution for West Side Elementary. Without a doubt, those three were multiple times versus other items.”

If the MPS decides to go to the voters, Overom had four primary areas where the district could improve its chances of success. Along with being more transparent and communicating better, he suggested engaging all groups within the community, show the poor conditions and demonstrate the need for space and phase the work.

“Try to phase the work and look at a scope that might be more palatable from a tax impact or tax tolerance standpoint was something that was mentioned in the survey results,” Overom said. “Don’t ask for everything at once.”

Working together, the facilities committee and Overom classified the components of MPS’ long-range facilities plan (LRFP) into four areas. On-going needs are ones that are reviewed, updated and funded on an annual basis. Priority 1 facility needs are considered the highest priority.

“Priority 1 needs are really defined as those items that need to be addressed immediately or within the next 1-3 years,” Overom said. “The facility committee sees those as needing review at a minimum of on an annual basis to verify priorities and to make sure things are still applicable or appropriate.”

The estimated budget to replace West Side is between $25-$27 million. The budget for establishing early childhood space is roughly $3 million and the cost of district-wide safety and security is between $1-$1.4 million. Along with the referendum funding if the vote passes, potential funding could also come from levy funds, state grant funding and the capital fund.

Priority 2 categorizes needs that have been identified as a priority for the district to be addressed within 3-6 years or as funding allows. Identified needs include additional core classroom space and exploratory classrooms at the middle school as well as additional core classroom space and career and technical space at the high school.

“These are needs identified are no less important, but they may be a little less urgent or the funding might be a little more challenging,” Overom said. “This year, you were awarded some security grant money. That’s a perfect example of how something may shift within the plan based on funding becoming available.”

Priority 3 items are need that have been identified as a long-term priority for the district to be addressed at some point in the future or as funding becomes available. Areas identified are MATEC space, activity and athletic improvements, maintenance/storage, swimming pool space and Marshall Area Child Care Center.

“These are items that are on the radar, but there’s no readily available funding mechanism and they may be items that need to be evaluated on a regular basis and further defined as they get closer to being considered for implementation,” Overom said.

According to Overom, the rationale and recommended timing are based on all the community input and feedback received to date, the overall costs and associated tax impact, the capital cost avoidance with replacement of West Side and the ability to coordinate safety and security work with the recent grant allocation.

“If the referendum is successful, it sets you up in a way that you’re not going to miss another full school year,” he said. “There are only five times during the year that schools can go to the voters. February and April are too quick and August and November would cost you another full school year.”

While May is the logical time to set the referendum, there would still be a lot of work to do before then. Along with preparing time for communication and outreach to the community, the school board would need to approve the plan and there would also ned to be further refinement and financial analysis that takes place.

The good news, Overom said, is that MPS and the Marshall community in general has a lot going for it.

“We heard time and again that district trust and transparency is good,” he said. “That’s a great thing to hear from the community at large and from stakeholders.”

Overom said growth and diversity are also positive things that should be leveraged and communicated as are the staff and student achievements, which were also brought up many, many times.

“As Minnesotans, we may be a little more humble and we don’t oftentimes brag or boast about some of the accolades, but whether it’s athletics, activities or academics, you have to be public about that,” he said. “Other positive themes and observations are partnerships within the community and that the school board and administration are generally liked and respected. That’s a bonus for you guys.”

Challenges to be considered and potentially addressed or clarified include ag climate, the Red Baron Arena issue, changing demographics within Marshall, general apathy and lack of connection for many in the community, private/parochial schools, Schwan’s sale uncertainty and having some community members who may resist publicly supporting the referendum.

“It’s about being mindful about these items, like how the private and parochial schools feed into your district and how you have partnerships with those folks,” Overom said.

Board member Bill Mulso spoke to misconception out there regarding the Red Baron Arena.

“It’s not a school facility,” he said. “It’s a city of Marshall facility.”

Mulso said gathering information from as many different groups of people as possible was intentional. That included people who were not in favor of the past referendums.

“We wanted to find out why people voted, ‘no,'” Mulso said.

For board members, who are required to be neutral, it can be somewhat challenging to convey all of the needs without seeming advocating for the successful passage of the referendum. The hope is that stakeholders will reach out and ask questions, however.

“We’ll do anything we can to share the needs,” Mulso said.

Board member Bill Swope said board members are natural advocates for the students.

“We can advocate for the kids and this (referendum) is for the kids,” Swope said.

MPS Superintendent Scott Monson said that Marshall’s business and population growth, together with a strong public school system, continues to be attractive to potential residents.

“We still get a lot of calls for tours from people with prospective jobs who are wondering about the school system,” Monson said.

Board chair Jeff Chapman said he was reading about how Minnesota keeps Fortune 500 companies in the state.

“The big reason is the public education system,” Chapman said.