Column: Addressing needs in an economical way
By Brad Shaffer, District 518 WORTHINGTON -- The Aug. 14 school bond referendum will help answer a simple question -- will we continue to offer adequate and safe space for students in the Worthington School District? Unlike the operating budget f...
By Brad Shaffer, District 518
WORTHINGTON - The Aug. 14 school bond referendum will help answer a simple question - will we continue to offer adequate and safe space for students in the Worthington School District?
Unlike the operating budget for a school district, which is funded mostly by the State of Minnesota, most building projects are funded with local dollars. Since the school board has recommended that we build a new intermediate school to serve grades 3-5, the size of the project means that local voters must approve the project and agree to repay the bonds with property tax payments.
There are two questions on the August ballot. Question #1 authorizes $35 million to build that intermediate school on a site just south of the middle school campus. After community discussions, the school board agreed that any amount needed over $35 million should be funded through the district’s budget reserve, which seemed like a fair request from area property owners.
Why is this space important? Our school district serves 1,100 more students than we did just 10 years ago. On the bright side, thanks to state funding this has greatly increased the health of our operating budget. But it has led to severe overcrowding. When students and teachers are placed in overcrowded classrooms or places not designed for teaching, education suffers.
Today, we have about 10 percent more students than we can fit in our current classroom space, based on Minnesota Department of Education guidelines. In the next six years, we expect this to grow by another 10 percent. For comparison, if we were just trying to match the square footage of the average school district in the Big South Conference, we would need to add nearly 400,000 square feet of education space to be prepared for the number of students we will have in 2024-25 school year.
This plan is a compromise, addressing immediate space needs in an economical way. Question #1 will authorize bonds for the construction of a 120,000-square-foot intermediate school, which will solve the space issue for at least seven years. We will still rank among the lowest districts in our conference for space per student, but a new building and changes in grade assignments will greatly reduce the overcrowding. Our teachers will work in classrooms that are designed for the correct number of students.
Anyone with taxable property will pay for a share of these bonds. If you live in your own home or own business property, your share will be included in next year’s tax statements. If you rent for your home or business, your share will be billed to your property owner, but property owners typically pass local taxes onto tenants as part of their monthly leases. You can learn more about your tax impact by going to worthingtonforward.com and clicking on the Tax Impact page.
Question #2 would authorize the district to issue bonds to repair and improve Trojan Field, track and other structures at the main complex next to the high school. In recent referendum elections, the community has voted to continue to use our current high school, rather than build new. As a result, we need to make sure that the athletic facilities at the current high school are safe for players, coaches and fans.
At a cost of less than $1 per month for the owner of a median-priced home in this area, we believe local residents should decide whether to use bonds to ensure the safety of our athletic facilities. And by holding the election for Question #2 at the same time as the state primary election, rather than waiting until next year, the school district saves both money and time on this referendum questions. We look forward to hearing the community’s input on the needs of our athletic facilities.
Will we continue to offer adequate and safe space for students in the Worthington School District? The school board’s answer is Yes, and we hope that residents agree that the latest plan is a fair compromise between the community’s real needs and the desire to hold down local property taxes.
Early voting has already started, and Election Day is Aug. 14. If you need more information, please check out worthingtonforward.com or call the school district at 372-2172.
Brad Shaffer is a member of the District 518 Board of Education.