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District 518’s fifth building referendum is Tuesday

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10:50 a.m. Update: The article was updated to reflect that absentee ballots will still be accepted on Monday. 

WORTHINGTON — Independent School District 518 residents know the drill.

For the fifth time in six years, district residents will go to the polls Tuesday to vote on the district’s latest bond proposal to address campus-wide overcrowding issues. The one-question ballot is for a $32 million bond for an intermediate school. A remaining amount of an estimated $5.8 million needed to construct the new school building will be covered by the district.

Polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. at the combined polling site, Lakeside Church, 1000 Linda Lane.

The Nobles County Auditor-Treasurer’s Office had transmitted 663 absentee ballots by noon Friday. The deadline to vote early at the Nobles County Government Center is 5 p.m. Monday, but ballots received by the office by mail Tuesday may still be tallied. 

District 518 Board of Education Chairperson Brad Shaffer said he has hope this proposal will have greater support. That hope, he said, derives from an October work session that included a combination of district administrators, board members and then-board candidates.  

“This particular amount ($32 million) was supported by everyone at the table,” Shaffer said of the roundtable work session that included individuals who had at one time been involved in the Worthington Citizens for Progress Committee and had actively opposed previous referendums. “That gives me a little bit more hope, because it appears those who had been against the referendums felt this was a more reasonable request.”

Tom Prins and Don Brink, who had filed for a school board seat and participated in the work session, each said they wanted to see the district commit more of its own money to a proposal. Brink added tha a $30 million proposal is what he wanted to see, which was consistent with what WCPC Chairperson David Bosma told board members at an April school board meeting prior to drafting what became its failed $35 million proposal in August.

The first time the district brought a proposal forward to alleviate space issues was in 2013, as the district’s enrollment continued to climb toward capacity.

According to information on the district’s website, the four referendums thereafter were produced after student enrollment had exceeded capacity. As of October 2018, the district’s enrollment was 3,274 students. According to referendum information on the district’s website, that’s approximately 400 students beyond capacity.

“The fact is, our population is growing, we are out of space and the only way that we can fix that is to somehow create new space through some kind of construction or remodeling of some kind,” Shaffer said about the continuous need to find a solution.

The plans and price tags have varied over the years, and each failed referendum has resulted in additional costs beyond the inability to alleviate crowded campuses.

According to election cost estimates related to building bond proposals provided by the district, the district has spent approximately $108,280 on election costs since 2013. The referendum the district inputted the most expenses into ($73,417) was its February 2018 high school proposal. More than half of those dollars ($45,401) were spent on a consultant, and more than $23,000 on judges and election cost from Nobles County because the vote wasn’t in conjunction with a primary or general election.

Given the sum of election costs between the four failed building proposals and the number of recorded “no” votes over that same time frame, each “no” vote cast has cost the district approximately $11.50.

Superintendent John Landgaard said he had no indication of what Tuesday’s result would be, but that the district hopes voters have taken the time to look at the information made available to them and make a decision based on those facts.

“We’ve done a couple different things to provide people with information and hopefully they will look at (the proposal) and vote accordingly,” he said.

As with past referendums, the district has provided information to residents on its website, social media accounts, via mail and by hosting a couple of public informational meetings. The district also calculated the estimated tax impact the proposal would have for homeowners and property owners across the district. District residents received their individualized estimated tax impact in the mail.

Tuesday’s proposal is similar to the one voters rejected in August, which was the closest to passing thus far (54 percent “NO”; 46 percent “YES”).

Shaffer, who works as an accountant, said whether interest rates remain steady or increase remains to be seen, but if they do change, the only way they can go is up.

“The fact of the matter is that it’s going to get more expensive the longer we wait to solve this issue,” he said. “This option, although not perfect, is certainly going to be something that will definitely help the situation we’ve been in for many years. It’s going to alleviate some of the overcrowding at Prairie (Elementary) and the middle school, which is a big problem right now.”