Letter: District 518 needs won't go away without action
By Jason Turner, Worthington
As we are nearing the final day to vote on the much-discussed District 518 referendum, I just want to reiterate a few points that I would like all members of our community to consider before you step into the voting booth.
Our schools have a problem that has been identified years ago and it is not something that will likely take care of itself; it will take action by our community to solve. In November 2016 an $80 million referendum was voted down, so the school board listened to feedback and crafted a different proposal that lowered the referendum amount to $68.5 million. This is a scaled-back version that cut out the athletic complex among other changes, but it still addresses the main issue challenging the education of our students now and in the future and that is space to learn.
In the last 10 years our schools have added 1,100 students — the equivalent of four new classrooms per year — and projections from the state of Minnesota demographer show this trend will continue. The referendum is not intended to build in excess but to meet projected needs. Data shows that even if the proposal passes District 518 will still rank at the very bottom of our conference in square feet per pupil ratio. Again, the proposal is to meet basic needs of an education, not to build in excess.
According to many, our community has many other needs as well that they would like to see addressed … a larger variety of better-paying jobs, more retail shopping choices and more entertainment choices, among others. I contend that unless we are willing to invest in ourselves in the form of providing adequate space to provide for the basic needs of our children’s education, why would we expect others to invest in our community?
I hear people lament about not having choices in doctors, dentists, lawyers and other professionals. What do you think is a staple of a city tour for any of those types of professionals considering relocation of their family? A tour of the schools, for certain. I don’t believe overcrowded schools with teachers teaching at tables in the hallway is going to give these people the arms wide open feeling that they may be seeking.
I understand that many of my friends in our ag community feel they can’t support the referendum because of their personal financial situation and I can appreciate that, believe me. Last go round with the referendum I heard that if the “Ag2School” bill passes offering a 40 percent reduction in taxes paid on ag land, it may be a game changer. I wish this would have been a proposal driven by all in our community, the ag sector included, and if it wasn’t sufficient to push for something acceptable. I believe that this proposal was mainly pushed through and passed by school districts and school supporters.
I am going to say this as the only thing that may be considered negative I have said throughout this campaign, but I feel it needs to be pointed out. If the energy and money would have been spent lobbying the legislature for a more acceptable solution rather than paying an outsider to come into our community once again and attack our school board members, superintendent, businesses that support this needed change all in the name of “Progress,” the sense of positive culture in our community would be much better. That damage is not without a cost, but we can move on and forgive and repair.
In closing, I see public education as the equalizer for all children. It is one opportunity that MUST be afforded to all; it is a chance at a better life and a better future for all in our community. It helps to shape the culture we want our community to stand for and at the end of the day, I still love this community and ALL that are in it no matter if you agree with me on the referendum or not. There is a need that must be addressed, and it isn’t going away without action on our part. I just ask that you would search yourself before stepping into that voting booth: what do you want for the future of our community?