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Column: Tuesday -- an opportunity to move forward together

By Lori Dudley, District 518

WORTHINGTON — Statewide primary election day is rapidly approaching. Next Tuesday we will pick our candidates for governor, both U.S. Senate seats and many other important Minnesota elective offices.

Here in District 518, we will also vote on two important questions that will impact the quality of local education for the next several generations. The first question addresses the lack of classroom space by asking for funds to build a 900-student intermediate school (grades 3, 4, and 5) near the current middle school, while the second question requests funds for repairs, renovations and upgrades to the Trojan Field facility.

Both questions were developed with the guidance of broad community input, assessments from educational experts and a close look at how other Big South conference school districts compare with ours.

But most importantly, we have designed both questions around the comments we hear every day from our educators. Teachers, paraprofessionals, administrative aides and maintenance staff provide important input into what works and what doesn’t when we make investments in our schools. We appreciate all the feedback from our employees.

In my conversation with community members, most people seem to agree that our school district needs more classroom space. With 1,100 more students than we had just a decade ago and the trend continuing, we are bursting out of our existing classrooms. In the last election, the majority of voters decided that a new high school was too costly and not the preferred solution to address our space needs. Community input was sought by the school board, and the consensus we heard was that the voters could support a $35 million solution. With that in mind, the school board unanimously voted to bring a bond referendum to the voters for an intermediate building not to exceed a cost of $35 million. If the project bids come in over that amount, the District will use reserve funds. The referendum solves the overcrowding in our K-8 buildings and frees up space for needed pre-K programming.

While classroom space is the most important need, we can’t ignore other investments in repairs and safety. We want to continue to use the Trojan Field facility for years to come. But the field, track, bleachers and even the concessions area are in need of repairs and safety improvements. The field house is minimally functional, and most of the facility doesn’t meet the minimum ADA requirements for students with disabilities.

The $4 million cost for athletic improvements, and the decision to put it on the ballot as a second question, was discussed at length by the board. The majority of the board members felt these improvements were important enough that the voters should decide. The two questions are independent of each other and listed separate on the ballot.

Yes, the cost of these investments will be paid by local property owners. Whether you are a homeowner, business owner, renter or agricultural land owner, there will be a tax impact. For example, if you own a $125,000 home, your monthly impact for Question 1 will be $7.94; the impact of Question 2 will be 90 cents. If you own homestead farm ground assessed at $6,000 an acre, the tax increase per acre is $1.73 for the first question and 20 cents per acre for the second question. You can find out more about the tax impact for your specific parcel by going to WorthingtonForward.com and clicking on Tax Impact, or calling the school district office at 372-2172.

On behalf of the school board, I want to sincerely thank you for caring about our local schools, giving input and seeking out factual information. We have had a long and sometimes intense debate about our school facilities and how to move forward with an acceptable plan to address our growing student population. It is time to move a solution forward TOGETHER for our students and the communities of our school district. On Aug. 14, you have that opportunity.

Lori Dudley is chair of the District 518 Board of Education. 

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