by Logan Gruber
This is part 2 of a 2 part series.
St. Cloud School District Superintendent Willie Jett, along with several board members, administration members, a teacher from St. Cloud Tech High School and the student-council president from Tech served as the panel during a discussion surrounding the proposed bond referendum on Oct. 12 at St. Cloud City Hall. An audience of about 90 people gathered to ask questions and hear answers.
Panelists, besides Jett, included the following: Marsha Baisch, assistant superintendent; Dennis Whipple, school-board chair; school-board members Bruce Hentges and Debbie Erickson; Kevin Januszewski, executive director of business services; Bryan Brown, supervisor of building and grounds; Charlie Eisenreich, Technical High School principal; Adam Holm, Apollo High School principal; Kaydee Miller, Technical High School student-council president; and David Leapaldt, IIW-Minnesota Architect. The discussion was facilitated by Marty Moran, a volunteer and member of the committee working on the new Technical High School design. Also in the audience were school-board members Les Green and Bruce Mohs.
The referendum will pose one question to voters on Nov. 3. If the vote is approved, the referendum would fund:
- Acquisition of land and construction of a new Tech High School on 33rd Street S. in St. Cloud, totaling $113.8 million.
- Renovation of Apollo High School and site upgrades, totaling $46.5 million.
- Upgrades for safe entrances and enhanced security at all schools in the district, totaling $2.5 million.
- Upgrades to technology infrastructure and devices for anytime/anywhere access to learning, totaling $4.2 million.
The proposed referendum would total $167 million.
Enrollment has gone up about 700 students in the past six years across the district, according to an information sheet provided by the school district. However, enrollment did drop by about 40 students from 2014 to 2015, but it rose the five years prior to that. Total enrollment is currently at 10,157; in 2009, enrollment was 9,451. The district expects enrollment to continue to follow the same upward pattern.
It was noted the blueprints are still changing, but the ones provided now are as current as possible. The plans were supposed to be developed over 12 to 14 months, according to Leapaldt, and they are only a few months into this process. A contractor has been chosen however. It went to the low bid, which is also a fixed bid, from ICS out of the Twin Cities.
A number of people were interested to know why Clark Field, the Tech football field, is being torn up so quickly and where the football team will play. Brown said since the school district’s ECFE program needs to be out of Colts Academy by July 2017, they need to build a new facility quickly. The district is also currently in discussions with St. Cloud State University to use some of their fields for practices.
Jett said some recent claims were made that the school district would be building facilities to cater to certain religious beliefs. He said there are no plans for prayer rooms or any other religious functions to be built with taxpayer money.
Some parents were interested to know whether wrestling, gymnastics and dance would share a gym at new Tech. The district noted there are multi-purpose rooms in the design, and further additions can be made to the building later.
A resident asked what would happen to home prices if the referendum is voted down. Erickson said new schools can increase home values by as much as 6 percent over 10 years, and it’s possible the opposite could happen.
If the levy passes, the estimated property tax impact on a $150,000 home is $218.35 per year. On a $250,000 home, the impact would be $302.34 annually.
It was mentioned low-income properties could get tax relief. Relief is based on income as well as age and current property tax. Any paperwork on tax relief would need to be completed through the state by Aug. 15, 2016.
Taxes could also go up if the levy does not pass, as $140 million would be needed for major repairs for Tech. This money would need a vote to be used, just like the levy.
Biggest Tech repairs
Brown shared that the biggest repairs needed at Tech, if the referendum were not to pass, would be the HVAC system, plumbing, the roof, the electrical system and accessibility or the distance between classes. Brown said the electrical system is so old they are running out of places to get parts, and some of the plumbing is nearly 100 years old. It was also noted only a portion of the school has air conditioning.
Miller said her band and choir classes are on opposite sides of the building from each other, even though the two classes occasionally collaborate.
It was asked whether additional bus routes would be needed, and the district said one route would have to be added at a cost of about $50,000.
Future of Tech
If Tech were to be sold, there has been some interest from developers in turning it into market-rate condos. But in a neighborhood-listening session, housing was not high on the list. The district said there was more of an interest in turning the school into an artist live/work space and retail area. The city and school district have promised to involve the community in any future use of Tech.
It was asked whether all of this money would give the students technology which would be good for a long time. Whipple said the referendum would catch the district up in regards to technology as far as 2018, but after that the school board would continue to budget for technology as it normally does. It was noted by the district that typically the school board will budget 8 to 10 percent of the annual budget for technology.
Eligible voters who are not currently registered can do so at their polling place on Nov. 3. Voters are encouraged to register in advance to save time at the polling place. Go to isd742.org/Page/1838 to download a voter registration application or go to the District Business Office, 1000 N. 44th Ave., Suite 100, St. Cloud to fill one out.
All eligible voters have the option to vote early using an absentee ballot instead of voting in person on Nov. 3. Voters can vote absentee by mail or in person at the District Business Office until 3 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 3. Ballots sent through the mail must be received by 8 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 3.
The school district decided to cut back on the number of polling places it would keep open in order to save costs, as in many places it will be the only issue on the ballot. The reduction in polling places saved the school district about $85,000, according to Whipple. For residents who receive this newspaper, likely polling locations would be Colts Academy, 124 SE First Ave., or St. John’s University, 31802 CR 159, Collegeville. All other polling places are in Waite Park or points east. Polling locations will likely be more crowded than usual due to the reduction. You can find your polling place by going to pollfinder.sos.state.mn.us and entering your address.
For further information on the referendum, the school district’s website can be accessed through a link on the front page of the Newsleaders’ website – www.thenewsleaders.com – under School District Links.