May 14 referendum questions and answers
On May 14, local residents will vote on a building referendum to replace West Side Elementary School and make other improvements that will improve education for local students. Over the past several months, I have received many questions and comments from the community — I am excited about the amount of interest in this proposal.
This is my last column before the referendum election. I will use this as an opportunity to answer some of the questions I have heard most often.
Q: What is the difference between this referendum proposal and past proposals that were not successful?
A: After the unsuccessful referendum in spring 2017, we took time to obtain feedback community leaders, parents, teachers and interested citizens. One strong message was to focus any future bond request on the most critical needs. Based on that advice, this referendum is focused on three areas:
• Replacing an aging West Side building with a new grade 2-4 building on the site that already includes Marshall Middle School (88% of the project budget).
• Adding and improving classroom space at Park Side Elementary to centralize Early Childhood and serve all preK-1st grade students (10%).
• Making safety and security improvements in three current buildings (2%).
With a total cost of $29.8 million, this request is much lower than the 2017 proposal. For a $150,000 home, the monthly tax impact will be $6.00 per month.
Q: How are enrollment projections impacting the district’s plans?
A: Our enrollment has increased 16.3% since 2009-2010, and projections show that this growth will continue for (at least) the next five years. Once the school board decided to propose replacing West Side as part of this referendum, we looked for the most effective plan to add additional classroom space at other grade levels, while also keeping costs as low as possible. By adding three classrooms and shifting all early childhood classes and programming to Park Side, we can free up additional classroom space at the Middle School for grades 5-8.
Q: What will happen to the West Side school?
A: It will be decommissioned, and we will make it available to interested parties that want to develop the property. If needed, we are setting aside money to demolish the building itself.
Q: Why are we investing in safety and security — didn’t we receive a state grant for those investments?
A: Safety and security improvements in the Marshall Middle School were one of the projects selected by the Minnesota Department of Education for a Safe and Secure School Grant. There were 1,187 grant applications, so we feel honored to have been selected. If approved, the referendum will allow us to complete similar improvements in our remaining school buildings.
Q: Are there any tax credits for local residents that apply to this referendum?
A: The Minnesota Homestead Credit Refund and the Senior Citizen Property Tax Deferral are both popular state programs. The Ag2School Credit will apply to this bond, meaning farmers will receive an automatic 40 percent tax credit on their non-homesteaded farmland. This program did not exist in 2017.
Finally, there is a special Property Tax Refund available for anyone subject to a total property tax increase of 12 percent and $100 in a single year. We don’t believe this will be an issue with this referendum, but property owners should keep an eye on their tax statements to determine if they may be eligible.
Q: What happens if this referendum fails?
A: We will need to develop a plan for West Side, respond to continued growth in enrollment, and find a way to make all of our buildings secure. The school board believes this voter-approved referendum is the best way to accomplish these goals, but this is a decision for local resident to make.
Please be sure to vote on May 14 at the Marshall Middle School (7 a.m. until 8 p.m.) or vote early at the Marshall Public Schools District Office during regular working hours (8 a.m. until 4 p.m.) through May 13.
As always, I can be reached at Scott.Monson@marshall.k12.mn.us or you can call me at 507-537-6924 with any additional thoughts you have. You can also check out information at investinginastrongfuture.org and click on the Contact Us tab to send me a question.