Referendum question takes shape
A referendum for the New Richmond School District is starting to take shape. At its meeting last Wednesady, the board directed district administrators to develop the wording for a $54 million referendum question. Under the plan, voters would decide the fate of the new and remodeled facilities in an April 5 election.
School board members voted 6-1 in favor of proceeding with the referendum. Bill Brennan voted against support of a referendum at this time.
Brennan indicated he did not feel comfortable supporting a plan for building until better growth projections are available. He also noted that low test scores among New Richmond students needed to rise before he would back a referendum.
The debate over growth projections grew heated at times. Several board and administrators said the current projections are based on credible, up-to-date information.
The favored referendum plan varies slightly from the recommendations offered by the district's administrators and principals.
If approved, the referendum would provide funding for a new high school to serve 1,200 students, with commons areas built to serve up to 1,600 students.
The plan would also include a sport complex, which would provide fields for various sporting activities but not a new stadium.
The proposal would include 10 new classrooms constructed at the East Elementary site, remodeling of West Elementary, remodeling of the high school for conversion of the building into a middle school, and purchasing property for the new high school.
Administrators had recommended a $63 million referendum, which would have included a new elementary school instead of an addition at East.
The board met Monday night to further discuss the referendum issue.
Board member Chris Skoglund reported that the difference between a $62 million and $54 million referendum is $76 a year or $6 a month.
Knowing that information, Skoglund asked if board members would support a plan to ask voters for the higher amount.
"We've always done things half way," she said. "Give New Richmond what we think our kids need."
Skoglund said she felt a new elementary school would provide more flexibility for the district in the future.
She said a building addition would end up causing "a lot of disruption" as grades are shuffled around. The added classrooms would also create common space issues at East Elementary, particularly related to cafeteria and gym space.
Board member Bob Sievert said residents he talks to say they want a phased-in approach to new building. He supported keeping the question at $54 million.
"It is my belief the referendum has a better chance for approval," he said.
Board President Judy Remington agreed, She said the public would possibly react negatively to a higher request.
Although some board members said they personally support a $62 million plan, they indicated that it was better to compromise and give the referendum a better chance to pass.
Board member Bill Jones said it's important that the board be unified when the referendum goes before the public. He said a close 4-3 vote would cause issues among voters.
"I still would like to do the whole thing," Jones said. "But I still want to be on the side of being together."
Because of the scaled-back plan, Jones noted that the public should be ready for another building referendum in the near future to meet space demands.
He said a referendum for a new elementary school could occur in 18 months to three years, if enrollment projections prove accurate.
Board member Andy Lieffort said stalling the construction of a new elementary will allow the district to see if the future growth materializes.
"Then you'll have the actual data," he said. "Then you'll know."
Superintendent Craig Hitchens said the district may still need to look at using portable classrooms to meet space needs over the next few years.
The board also discussed the future of the New Richmond Middle School building. Remington said she feels the district might need to hold onto the building for several more years.
"I don't see us getting rid of the Middle School," she said.
Remington said she feels the city may have the impression that the district will soon be ready to part with the building. She noted it could be 2010-2011 before the district could part with the middle school.
Other board members also indicated that the price for the middle school should not be a reduced rate. Lieffort said the value of the property should be established before any negotiations occur.
In a related matter, the school board has been discussing a possible land purchase that will house a new high school and possibly future buildings. Superintendent Craig Hitchens said no information can be released about the land being considered, but he said a public announcement will be made soon.
In other business:
n The board voted to clarify its official vote to establish soccer as a varsity sport for boys and girls.
The board will move forward with spring soccer for girls and fall soccer for boys if the financial issues are resolved and the facilities for soccer fields are available.
Hitchens said the district will complete the appropriate state paperwork for adding soccer, but will have the option to withdraw the application if all of the pending issues are not resolved by next year.