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School board hopes for referendum approval

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WORTHINGTON — Recalling the premise that a town is only as vital as its schools, Worthington residents are invited to attend an organizational meeting for promoting the Nov. 5 District 518 referendum at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday in the Worthington High School (WHS) cafeteria.

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“The stronger the school system, the stronger the community will be,” reminded District 518 Superintendent John Landgaard. “The ‘Vote Yes’ committee is out there to promote and support what are identified as the needs of the school district.

“As superintendent, I have to stick to the facts and simply present the district’s needs, but volunteers can go out to promote a ‘yes’ vote and make the emotional appeal.”

District 518 Board Chair Linden Olson echoes Landgaard’s thoughts.

“It’s really important for people in the community to be involved in the kind of school system they want, and to take time to consider what will happen to this community if this [Nov. 5] referendum does not pass,” said Olson.

“The long-term implications of what sound schools mean to a community include enticing people to move here for good-paying jobs, for building houses and everything else that goes along with recruiting and retaining people, especially younger people,” Olson added.

Details of the two questions District 518 officials are hoping the public will approve on Nov. 5 are two-fold.

The first question pertains to authorizing the local school board to issue school building bonds up to $38,975,000 for the purpose of constructing a new intermediate school (grades 3-5) and making renovations and additions to Prairie Elementary and WHS.

The second ballot question involves approval to revoke the existing referendum revenue authorization (which is due to expire after next year) and replace it with a new authorization for the same per-pupil amount ($1,000) that would be applicable for the next 10 years.

“In three out of the past seven years, we have not levied the full dollar amount we are authorized to ask of taxpayers,” shared Landgaard. “We gave about a $1.3 million tax break to district residents because we tried to be prudent and not overtax people.

“We will continue to operate on that principle, but we need the extended 10-year referendum in place to ensure coverage of the district’s increased operational expenses related to the additional square footage we hope to have.”

That additional space is necessitated by dramatic enrollment growth in all District 518 schools. Since 2006, District 518 enrollment has enlarged from 2,260 to its current head count of 2,860 students.

“That’s a year ahead of our previous projections,” confirmed Landgaard. “We thought that would be our figure for next year, not this year — and we’re looking at over 3,000 kids in our schools within the next three years.”

Such rapid growth in student numbers has already necessitated use of spaces not originally designed as classrooms, resulted in overcrowding of certain specialty spaces (music, gyms and cafeterias, for instance) and seen the district’s main buildings function at or above their design capacity, according to District 518 officials.

“It’s going to be uncomfortable for a couple years no matter what we do,” said Landgaard. “We’ll have to be extremely creative in how we make it to the point of having the new spaces available.”

Landgaard explained that at Prairie Elementary, for example, an art room and planning centers are now serving as classrooms.

“We’re doing what we can to accommodate our students and teachers while still maintaining our goal for class sizes, though some of our classes are starting to climb higher than we care for, particularly at the high school,” revealed Landgaard.

Olson knows from past experience that involving citizens in the referendum promotion process is critical to its success.

“We need people here to get behind the schools and not expect that the school board can get this message across all by itself,” stressed Olson of the need for interested residents to attend Wednesday’s meeting. “The involvement of a broad range of people in the community is critical.”

If all goes according to plan, and the two referendum questions pass in November, Landgaard anticipates the new intermediate building and expansion/renovation of the existing ones would be complete and ready for student occupancy in the fall of 2016.

“It’s imperative we have the operating referendum in place to support the operational costs of the new facilities,” Landgaard stressed.

Olson is hopeful motivated citizens will step forward, beginning with Wednesday’s meeting, to demonstrate their support for the District 518 school system and offer their help in advancing “yes” votes for the Nov. 5 referendum questions.

“Even if people have not completely made up their minds yet, they should come out to hear the facts and learn why the school board decided we need to have both the excess levy and building referendum,” said Olson.

Prairie Elementary physical education teacher Mike Marquardt added his own plea for participation.

“I believe the meeting is essential to promote and advocate what’s best for students,” Marquardt said. “Larger class sizes and limited space do not provide optimal learning environments.

“District 518 offers an excellent educational experience for all students, and we need to ensure this high level of education continues.

“As a teacher, I’m proud to work in a community that values education,” he continued. “As a parent, I look forward to my children receiving their education in our school system.”

The public is welcome to attend a District 518 “Vote Yes” referendum promotion committee meeting at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday in the Worthington High School cafeteria at 1211 Clary St. More detailed information about the Nov. 5 referendum questions will be provided at that time.

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