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Letter: District 518 board ‘out of sync’ with most of community

By Mike Harberts, Reading I was one of two from the general public who attended the facilities workshop held by the board of District 518 on March 16. I thought readers might want to know more of the information and board member comments that we ...

By Mike Harberts, Reading

I was one of two from the general public who attended the facilities workshop held by the board of District 518 on March 16. I thought readers might want to know more of the information and board member comments that we heard. And I’d like to share some of my opinions from it.

 

Superintendent John Landgaard started the meeting with an overview of the public group meetings. Knowing the district recently paid thousands of dollars for a public survey, I found it odd that he never mentioned their findings. Mr. Landgaard also shared two of his frustrations during this session. His first frustration is with the legislature and how they are not doing their job of providing tax relief to the agriculture sector. His second frustration is that the school board is required to get voter approval for major capital bond expenditures whereas other government bodies are not required to, which in turn leads to angry voters. As a result, he indicated that these angry voters ultimately take their frustration out on school referendums. He’s implying many are voting “no” due to wasteful capital spending of other local government bodies.

 

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Yet, here are a couple of examples where voter approval has not been sought on District 518’s significant capital expenditures in recent years: a $3 million land purchase, a $6.5 million high school project and a multi-million dollar bus storage shed project. I’m not stating whether I agree with these projects or not, but instead pointing out that the school board does have authorization to make some large expenditures without the general public’s input.

 

I doubt waste from other government bodies is what motivated many “no” voters on District 518’s defeated proposal last fall. Based on Mr. Landgaard’s comments, he is clearly frustrated that he cannot pursue an $80 million school project without voter approval - much like these other “small” expenditures.

 

The board members also discussed the potential legislature agriculture land credit. School board member Linden Olson described the District 518 as a tax-poor district, not a tax wealthy district, which leads to a higher tax cost for a project versus a more modest one for other districts for the same project.

 

Member Bradley Shaffer acknowledged that this is not just an agriculture tax burden - it is a general tax burden for everyone and that it is definitely a financial issue. Member Scott Rosenberg also agreed, saying that he didn’t believe a $10 million referendum would pass now (let alone a $50 million one) and that things were not good financially.

 

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Member Linden Olson informed the board that “it is time to forget about your pocket books and put the kids first.” Despite Mr. Olson’s comments, there are very few people who can forget about their personal finances (and, not to mention, who already support our kids greatly). If Mr. Olson knows of individuals or businesses where finances are not a concern, the community would greatly appreciate them stepping forward.

 

Mr. Landgaard informed the board it had an opportunity to get a referendum on the fall ballot, as there needs to be a vote for a board member anyhow. He was adamant that the board proceeds forward quickly.

 

The board started to discuss some options. Olson said he wanted a facility with all amenities; it is what showcases our town. He wanted no additions. He told the board that young people today moving to an area look at the community for its amenities - they look at health care, church and education, and a job is not high priority at all. I totally disagree; a job is almost always why a young person moves to an area.

 

Member Steve Schnieder agreed that he wanted a facility with all the amenities. He felt that Worthington had very little to offer a student to do, and that the school should provide things to do (If we don’t, who will?). It is hard to believe the great value and opportunities that our area YMCA and area churches provide - for not only students but families as well - are being so easily overlooked by some board members.

 

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Rosenberg preferred a new facility over additions. He wants the sports because he was a younger member of the board, yet had just got done saying we couldn’t afford it.

 

Member Joel Lorenz told the board that he wants a new school, but it is too much money and that we must remove $20 million to get it down and find a way to do that somehow.

 

With so many in our community supporting additions to our current facilities, the board still doesn’t want any. They have a poor attitude toward additions and will do anything they can to not approve them. They use terms like “Band-Aids” and “coupled together.” They believe additions, versus a new facility, sends a negative message of support for education. So what is a greater support of education - $10 million for computer and science lab(s) additions or $10 million for a new sports complex? It appears that the District 518 school board has several board members without a budget limit, and it displays unwillingness to compromise.

The board talked about a new intermediate school that was quickly shot down by member Lori Dudley, who said they voted that down over three years ago. In my opinion, for the board not to look at this option in the planning stages is an injustice to the voters. The intermediate school might have failed before, but a high school also failed.

 

The intermediate school plan had a task force that came up with that plan. Dudley, Olson and Schnieder were on that task force, along with a cross-section of community people. Schafer mentioned to the board that the plan was almost $30 million less in cost. This also came up numerous times in Mr. Landgaard’s opening overview of the public’s comments during the most recent meetings.

 

It is very apparent that numerous members are still hung up on a sports complex even after the general public has told them “no” to a wasteful priority on sports. Mr. Landgaard told the board about a small community in South Dakota that had artificial turf, and Schnieder brought up a hockey facility at the work session. Sports have clearly impacted their view of an intermediary school option as it does not provide for them. In reality, sports are only for a select few students and do not fulfill the core educational needs of all students.

 

I believe that the intermediate school is possibly the best compromise for meeting our community’s needs versus cost ratio in the event, additions to existing buildings prove not to be feasible. Again, this is something that is not even being considered at this time.

 

Shaffer told the board that there comes a time when we need to maybe do what the people want, not necessarily what we want. He’s right, and I have to compliment him for saying this.

 

Going forward, whatever the plan is, we must as a community make sure the board invests into the plan a high percentage of our large cash reserves. That way, the school board resists the temptation to bypass voter approval of a sports complex and later build it by spending these large cash reserves. This would lower the tax impact to everyone.

 

I believe the taxpayers should have a say in which option gets chosen to be on the referendum. It appears that our input from the public meetings is being ignored.

 

People realize that there is a need to do something and that we do not live in a perfect world. Board members and a few other proponents need to adjust down their expectations. They are out of sync with the majority of the community. Economics is a yes or no vote. It is not a “love your kids or not love your kids” vote.

Related Topics: EDUCATION
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