December 3, 2020

Grant County Herald

Community news from the prairie to the lakes

Superintendent makes case for bond

West Central Area Superintendent Dale Hogie gave an hour and a half presentation Thursday evening, in the first of three facilities referendum meetings to consider a building bond to construct a 112,741 square foot, two-story PK-5 elementary school, attached to the north academic wing of the current secondary school, in Barrett, at a cost of about $33,825,000.

The bond issue will be voted on November 3, 2020.

There are three other questions for voters to consider as well. 

Question #2: adding space to the Secondary School site to expand and enhance opportunities in career and technical education, science/technology/engineering/arts/math, media center, and other updates at a cost of $2,330,000

Question #3: add space to expand, update, and furnish the physical education and fitness space at the Secondary School. Part of this enhancement would include access by community members for cardio, weightlifting, and other physical workouts. The cost of this would be $780,000.

Question #4: Construct a track and field complex and repair other outdoor grounds and structure at a cost of $1,015,000.

If all four questions pass, the total cost would come to $37,950,000.

Because the planned elementary wing is now planned for the north side of the secondary school, the current softball fields would be moved to an undetermined location.

Also, two additional parking lots would be built, one where the current Junior Varsity Softball field is, and an additional parking lot for staff, in back of the school.

Hogie said the school board and administration have been working on refining this plan since 2017, and conducted a community survey that was reviewed by the board in January of 2020. The survey showed that 70 percent of all residents responding said they would support a bond referendum to address facility needs.

Hogie said the rationale for the project comes down to these points: 

1. The current north and south elementary schools have aged past the point where they have exceeded their average life expectancy. South is comprised of three sections that are 65, 63, and 50 years of age. North is comprised of sections that are 84, 70, and 54 years of age.

2. The elementary buildings, and even parts of the newer secondary school, are not ADA compliant, and  have little or no handicapped access.

3. Educational adequacy. Hogie explained that there have been lots of changes in the way students are taught in the last 20 years. Current elementary classrooms are too small for modern teaching methods that stress breakout sessions, and learning modules. And the ventilation systems in the elementary schools make the rooms either too hot or too cold for comfort.

4. Financial opportunity. Interest rates are at an historic low right now, around two percent. Also, taxes will not be collected until 2022 and the school district has no bond debt at this time. Inflation will add $1.4 million to the project each year of delay.

5. Expanded opportunities for WCA Students. Under question #2, additional space will be added for enhanced agriculture, auto mechanics, welding, culinary arts, and other vocational education.

Hogie said the school board looked at the cost of renovating the two elementary schools and found the costs prohibitive. To renovate north, up to standards, would cost $15,541,158. To renovate south would cost $20,203,021. He said the school board felt it didn’t make sense to spend that money when a new elementary wing in Barrett would cost about the same.

Hogie said, a new elementary wing in Barrett would also save money in that it would take less staff to operate because of efficiencies. The school would take five less teachers, two less food service personnel, one less custodian, one less secretary, and two fewer paraprofessionals, saving $457,694. Attrition and retirement would mean these personnel would not have to be laid off.

Hogie had a chart showing the tax impact of various questions. On a $100,000 house, passing the bond would increase property taxes $110 a year if question #1 passed, $8 a year if question #2 passes, $3 a year if question #3 passes, and $2 a year if question #4 passes. If all four questions pass, property taxes on a $100,000 home would go up $125 a year for 20 years.

On commercial/industrial property worth $100,000, taxes would go up $262 a year for 20 years if all four questions pass.

For homestead/ag land valued at $4,000 per acre, taxes would go up $1.40 per acre, and for non-homestead/ag land worth $4,000 per acre, taxes would go up $2.79 per acre.

Hogie said, however, taxpayers would qualify for an Ag2School Tax Credit, which  would reduce their tax liablity substandually. 

The County Auditor will calculate the building bond referendum tax for ag property owners to determine the tax before the tax credit is applied.

The auditor will apply the appropriate tax credit (60 percent for taxes payable in 2022, and 70 percent for taxes paid in 2023 and after.  That amount is deducted from the initial tax amount to determine the final tax due from the taxpayer.  The tax credit amount is forwarded to the MN Department of Revenue, and the ag credit amount will be reimbursed to school districts.

Hogie said enrollment at WCA is projected to increase over the next five years, so more space will be needed. Also, Palmers Bus Service has estimated that by having all school facilities at one location, average bus route times would be cut by up to 20 minutes, and no shuttles would be needed to shuttle students between towns.

He also explained that he had written letters to the mayors of Elbow Lake and Kensington asking if the two cities had any plans to use the elementary buildings if a new school was built in Barrett. Neither mayor has answered Hogie yet, and he said the two elementary buildings would be demolished, if the cities had no use for them. The cost of demolition is included in the bond.

Hogie live streamed his presentation and a recording will be made available on the school’s web site. There was a WCA facilities referendum meeting at the school in Elbow Lake Monday evening, and will be a third meeting Tuesday, October 13, 7:00 p.m. at the school, in Kensington. Participants at these meetings will be able to ask questions of Hogie, or school board members following the presentation.