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Column: District 518 addressing facility needs


WORTHINGTON — District 518 has worked for more than two years to address the facility needs for a growing enrollment as well as the future educational needs of our students. The school board last spring decided it was time to take the direction for facilities to the voters in which the ballot will have two questions that will be addressed — with the first question being a $38,975,000 bond to add a new intermediate school and a High School addition along with some other support pieces. The second question will address an excess operating referendum at a rate of $1,000 per pupil to support continued operational expenses and educational programming.

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In addressing first question on the ballot (bond referendum), District 518 will ask voters to approve $38,975,000 for a new Intermediate School that will house grades 3 through 5 and include moving Community Education to Prairie (with some remodeling). Another piece of this is to add approximately 60,000 square feet to the current high school building to provide additional programming and support space and — lastly — to decommission the current West Learning Center (current programs in this facility will be relocated). Additionally, depending on the bidding for these facilities, practice fields or other programming may be addressed to accommodate the needs of the students. This direction was chosen by the school board over a new high school due to what was believed would be affordable and workable for the district taxpayers. It was estimated that the new high school would have cost taxpayers approximately $10 million more than what is currently being proposed by the district.

After a district study and a consultant study, the two options that were identified as the best way to address the needs of the district was a new high school or the current proposal on the ballot. This was a difficult decision, since many folks saw the overall need for a new high school, but due to the cost and taxpayer impact, it was felt that it was not the option to move forward with to the voters. Hence, option two was chosen as the direction that can support the overall needs of the district while providing to meet the expectations for our students.

The second question addresses an operating referendum for the district to support current programming as well as future operating expenses. This question asks voters to approve a $1,000-per-pupil excess operating referendum for 10 years. The question on the ballot admittedly looks confusing since it shows the past referendum was $844.46, but this is due to the last legislative session changes in which changes were made to this portion of school finances. They provided more financial support to districts and created district approved levies within this area. So, as the decision was made to move forward with revoking the last year of the current referendum and ask for a new $1,000 per pupil referendum (which in essence we are looking at extending the current referendum), it has allowed the district to address any increased operating or programming expenses.

The impact to taxpayers will be less, even though the question states that they will be voting on a tax increase (confusing due to legislative changes). The bottom line is that if approved, taxes related to the excess operating referendum will decrease and the amount of decrease is dependent on the valuation of your property. Also, over the last seven years, the school board made the decision to reduce the levy three times, (approximately $1.3 million savings to taxpayers) rather than collect the maximum available to the district. The school district has been very deliberate in this decision to avoid additional tax burden to residents of the district, but still address the overall needs in the district.

The informational meetings for the upcoming election are scheduled so that the district can communicate the needs and plans related to these two questions. We would like to encourage your participation in the meetings on the following dates:

n 7 p.m. Monday, High School Cafeteria

n 7 p.m. Oct. 10, High School Cafeteria

n 7 p.m. Oct. Prairie Elementary (in-building location TBA)

The Worthington School District 518 is excited to present information related to the future direction of the district and would like to encourage your participation in the meetings. If you would have questions and are not able to attend one of the meetings, please feel free to contact us at the District Office (372-2172) to get the necessary information.

We would like to thank you for your continued support, commitment and dedication to the students of our district.

John Landgaard is superintendent of District 518 schools.