Hopefully, this time will finally be the charm.
District 518 is in the midst of its latest attempt — its sixth try in the past six years— to pass a bond referendum, as early voting began last month leading up to Election Day on Nov. 5. While the margins of defeat have become increasingly narrower (the previous bond referendum effort, in February, was defeated by just 17 votes), the end result has been the same. It has been “back to the drawing board and try again.”
It’s not difficult to think about what would have happened (or what would be happening) if previous referendum attempts had passed. We aren’t choosing on this occasion, however, to examine what could have been. We’re choosing to keep pushing members of this community to continue looking forward, and encouraging them to vote yes.
When the details about November’s bond referendum were initially released, the fact that voters would be considering three ballot questions seemed potentially confusing. And, if these multiple questions left voters scratching their collective heads, how would a referendum ever get passed?
Upon further review, the questions not only make sense, but detail important information for voters to consider one question at a time.
For starters, the district’s latest ballot proposal demonstrates a continued dedication to hearing the concerns of taxpayers while also addressing critical classroom space needs. This is reflected by the first two questions, which ask voters to consider a new building for fourth and fifth grade (question 1) as well as having that same new building also include third grade (question two). Question 1 carries with it a cost of up to $26.7 million — the district’s board of education has always committed up to $5 million of that total to the project, if approved — while Question 2 adds $7 million to the price tag.
That combined new total of $33.7 million — again, up to $5 million of which has already been funded by the school board — represents both a modest and reasonable cost, we believe, to taxpayers. But thoughtful tax considerations, as well as the benefits to the district, don’t stop there.
Question 3, meanwhile, requests the refinancing of $14 million in lease levy dollars, a portion of which the school board approved to fund seven new second-story classrooms at Worthington High School, along with new debt for the just-opened Learning Center/Gymnastics facility. The refinancing would transfer lease levy funds to a general obligation bond, which is eligible for the Ag2School tax credit. That’s noteworthy, because the Minnesota Legislature has expanded Ag2School in order to lessen the tax impact on owners of agricultural land. The credit has been improved from 40% to 50% this year, and will increase further to 70% by 2023.
In short, multiple efforts have been made to keep costs down as much as possible while also addressing long-ignored space concerns. Still, it’s not unreasonable to expect a close and contentious vote, given recent unfortunate history.
It’s no secret that the District 518 bond referendum requests of the past several years have resulted in significant divisions in our community. Whether one is quick to criticize the district for its previous proposals or even unrelated actions, or the Worthington Citizens for Progress group for the ways in which it has galvanized “no” voters, the facts are that some sort of solution to ongoing space issues is urgently needed. The latest three-question ballot represents the best way yet of accomplishing this with the least amount of cost to taxpayers.
In the end, it’s this accomplishment — moving forward with a successfully passed referendum — that matters far more than, for instance, what one may think of the District 518 board or its superintendent, what one thinks of the recent Washington Post article and the ensuing backlash, or what one thinks of any number of ills that may (or may not) plague our community. This is about the kids. It’s about giving them the space they and teachers need to learn, safely and effectively.
It’s about joining together, and putting our future first and foremost. We urge “yes” votes on all three questions, as the future is actually here and needing our attention today.