JACKSON — Decommissioning the Jackson County Central Middle School building in Lakefield and absorbing those grades into Pleasantview Elementary in Lakefield appears to be supported by a good chunk of district residents that completed a recent stakeholders survey.
That information — shared for the first time during Monday's regular JCC Board of Education meeting — was among the highlights of information gleaned from the School Perceptions survey that received 1,003 responses (27% response rate).
Of survey respondents, 64% supported closing the middle school, which has been a topic discussion for at least the past year after an independent evaluation of the district's facilities deemed the middle school to be in the poorest shape — and requiring the most costly upgrades — than any other JCC building.
The favored option among respondents places grades pre-kindergarten through third grade at Riverside Elementary in Jackson and grades pre-kindergarten and fourth through eighth grades at Pleasantview in Lakefield. The district estimates that $35.3 million in upgrades to Pleasantview and Riverside elementaries and the high school's HVAC, plumbing and failing exterior is necessary to accomplish that option. This option is anticipated to save the district between $250,000 and $300,000 annually.
"If this were to go to the polls, we feel option 1 and a $35 million bond would have support," said Sue Peterson of School Perceptions of the information gained from the survey, which also asked respondents what amount they'd be willing to support financially.
The alternative scenario posed to survey takers was to close both the JCC middle school in Lakefield and Riverside Elementary in Jackson. In that event, Pleasantview Elementary would serve students pre-K through sixth grade and the high school would be renovated to serve grades pre-k and 7-12. That had an estimated price tag of $40 million, but had the potential to save the district overhead costs between $300,000 and $350,000 annually.
Survey respondents rejected that option at a rate of 56%.
The resident survey was yet another step in the district's process of examining its facilities and exploring ways to reduce costs and improve operational efficiencies. That process was necessitated by JCC continuously experiencing an operating budget deficit and utilizing its fund balance to balance its budget.
The ongoing process has also included a citizens' task force and approving a grade-alike model, which the district said would make more financial sense and more efficiently use its resources. However, that plan received some criticism from district residents, many citing fears that it was indicative of Lakefield losing its middle school.
While not every district resident completed the survey, Peterson explained that the results were a good indication of residents' views.
"You had an outstanding response rate," she said, adding that between 16% and 18% response rate is typical.
The JCC school board gave the nod Monday to its construction management consultant Kraus-Anderson to prepare a review-and-comment document to be submitted to the Minnesota Department of Education.
That step will prepare the board for a bond referendum, if that's the direction it chooses. Based on Minnesota state law, dates the board may consider for a special election during any given calendar year are the second Tuesdays in February, April, May and August. The district may also call a special election during November election dates. Nov. 5, 2019 is the upcoming general election.
No decision regarding a ballot question was made during Monday's meeting. The board is expected to further discuss the potential for a bond referendum during its 5:30 p.m. Aug. 12 board work session in the High School Board Room.
School Perceptions' complete survey results is available online on JCC's website.