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Editorial: Latest 518 bond referendum too good to turn down

A little more than two years ago, District 518 put forth a $79 million bond referendum to voters that failed by a nearly two-thirds to one-third margin. That referendum, if passed, would have resulted in the construction of a new high school, rec...

A little more than two years ago, District 518 put forth a $79 million bond referendum to voters that failed by a nearly two-thirds to one-third margin. That referendum, if passed, would have resulted in the construction of a new high school, reconfiguration of the grades for other buildings and started creation of a new sports complex.

 

Those types of needs remain unmet today, as two more bond referendums - one in February 2018 and the next six months later - also didn’t pass.

 

The latter two referendums, it should be stressed, were more modest than the initial November 2016 proposal. In February, the district asked for $68.5 million, essentially subtracting the sports complex portion from that first referendum. Then, in August, a $35 million question for construction of a new intermediate school was also defeated. The August vote asked for a mere 44 percent of the money requested in 2016, but still failed.

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We’re hoping that this time around, the district finally gets its “yes” from voters.

 

Voting is already underway for the latest bond referendum, and we can’t help but hope this effort will gain approval after polls close on the Feb. 12 special election (voting will be at Lakeside Baptist Church, 1000 Linda Lane, Worthington). The ballot for this election states the following: “ Shall the school board of Independent School District No. 518 (Worthington) be authorized to issue its general obligation school building bonds in an amount not to exceed $32,000,000 to provide funds for the acquisition and betterment of school sites and facilities, including the construction and equipping of a new grades 3 to 5 intermediate school facility.” In short, the referendum question is markedly similar to the one posed to voters last August, but there are a couple of other key differences this time around.

 

For starters, the school board - which, we should note, has seen the re-elections of Lori Dudley and Mike Harberts as well as the election of new member Adam Blume - has already resolved to cover any additional construction costs for construction of the intermediate school above the $32 million. District 518 Superintendent John Landgaard reported in December that the estimated cost out of the district fund balance was, at that time, $5.8 million. We know all too well from recent experience that costs for projects such as these are only likely to rise with prolonged inaction.

 

Additionally, it should be pointed out that there is just one question in this latest special election. A second question posed to voters back in August asked for $4 million toward athletic field improvements. That question also failed, and some believe the addition of a second question pertaining to athletics should have not been asked at that time - if funding for a new school was the top priority, that should have been addressed on its own.

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Nevertheless, despite the pared-down and one-question nature of the latest bond referendum, naysayers certainly remain. No one loves to pay more taxes, of course, but it’s hard to imagine a bond referendum getting much more reasonable, cost-wise, than the current proposal.

 

Last week, new Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz made headlines when he expressed the hope that state government could make local school referendums “either rare or extinct.” That would be welcome news, indeed, in a community like Worthington, where recent referendums have resulted in a split into “yes” and “no” factions. While significantly easing burdens for local school districts would be a hugely positive step, voters between now and Feb. 12 shouldn’t be complacent. After all, we do have multi-party rule in St. Paul.

 

Let’s not wait any longer to take action - or assume others will somehow take action for us. Let’s do the right thing for our schools and our kids. Let’s vote “yes” this time around and start addressing at least some of the significant needs our district faces.

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