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Round Lake-Brewster to bring failed $30.48 million building referendum back to voters in February

The school board hired Donovan Group School Communications to handle communications and community engagement for the new referendum.

Cracks and deterioration were found in the Round Lake-Brewster School, located in Brewster, prompting the school to ask the public for $30.48 million earlier this month. The referendum failed in a 219-212 vote.
Cracks and deterioration were found in the Round Lake-Brewster School, located in Brewster, prompting the school to ask the public for $30.48 million earlier this month. The referendum failed in a 219-212 vote.
Kari Lucin / The Globe
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BREWSTER — After a $30.48 million building referendum failed by just 7 votes, the Round Lake-Brewster Board of Education decided Monday to bring the issue back to the public in a Feb. 14 special election.

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Superintendent Ray Hassing said that many people who voted against the issue didn’t go to the public meeting and may not have had information about the building question.

“I think they all had plenty of misinformation,” said Bob Bohn, school board member.

After cracks and deterioration were found at the Round Lake-Brewster school, a building assessment was done and temporary fixes were made. In order to solve the problem on a more permanent basis, the school board requested $30.48 million from the public in order to demolish portions of its school, including those built in 1914 and 1938 as well as part of its 1961 structure, and replace them with a new building addition.

The building referendum failed at a vote of 219-212, with the city of Brewster voting 77-54 in favor of the project and the city of Round Lake voting 36-34 against it.

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Townships with majorities against the project included Alba at 21-13 no, Ewington at 15-12 no, Round Lake at 16-9 no, Graham Lakes with 19-10 no and Indian Lake with 18-15 no. Townships with majorities in favor of the building project were Hersey at 26-25 and Lorain with 16-15. No votes were cast on the matter in La Crosse Township.

“The city of Brewster could’ve easily turned the tide on this thing,” Hassing said.

During the meeting, the school board hired Donovan Group School Communications to handle communications and community engagement for the new referendum, at a rate of $3,500 per month for four months, or $14,000 total.

In a memo, Jerry Gallagher, a partner with Donovan Group, wrote that it will be important to over-communicate, particularly about the school’s needs, but that “we must not tell people how to vote and we must not campaign for a specific solution.

“Finally, we must always realize that communication in advance of a referendum vote is a great way to gain trust in the community. This happens by being as truthful as possible, answering questions as honestly as you can, and generally operating with a high level of integrity.”

Donovan’s sample communications calendar included emails to parents, news releases, social media, videos and website work.

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During the meeting, the school board also approved setting its combined polling place for special elections to be at City Hall in Brewster as well as City Hall in Round Lake, meaning those will be the polling places for the February referendum. People may still vote using an absentee ballot if needed.

In other news Monday, the board:

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  • Heard from Hassing about new COVID-19 recommendations from the CDC. Those who test positive should quarantine for five days, and if there are no new symptoms after that, they can return to school or work with a mask on for 5 days. Those who have been exposed do not need to quarantine if they aren’t showing symptoms, but should wear a mask for five days. If they test negative after five days they don’t have to wear a mask after that point.
  • Discussed the school’s cellphone policy and the issue of sick kids simply calling their parents and being picked up without checking in with the school nurse or telling the office what’s going on. Bullying and harassment have also been concerns. The school’s policy is to only allow cell phones at the beginning and end of the school day; students may keep phones on silent in their lockers and check them during passing time. They may also not take pictures of people without getting prior permission from them.
  • Received an enrollment update, learning that 490 students will be in the RL-B building this year, up from 436 last year.
  • Talked about the ongoing teacher shortage in the region.
A 1999 graduate of Jackson County Central and a 2003 graduate of Augsburg College, Kari Lucin started writing for newspapers in Minnesota and North Dakota in 2006. During her time as a reporter, she covered beats including education, watershed, county and agriculture, and frequently wrote about health and science. She has also served as an online content coordinator and an engagement specialist at various Forum Communications properties. She was a marketing assistant at Iowa Lakes Community College in Estherville for two years, where she did design work in addition to writing and social media management.

Lucin is currently a community editor with the Globe of Worthington.

Email: klucin@dglobe.com
Phone: (507) 376-7319
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