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Task force recommends second referendum question

At its last meeting before making a final recommendation to the school board Monday night, members of the St. Croix Central Facilities Task Force (FTF), led by Superintendent Tim Widiker and Miron Construction Manager Craig Uhlenbrauck, discussed several issues they would later encourage the board to continue investigating.

The board is expected to adopt a resolution at its August meeting giving board members eight weeks to review the task force’s recommendation and gather any additional information they feel is necessary to create a balanced resolution before the referendum scheduled for November.

Widiker presented the committee with an estimate of $373,000 to pay for operational costs associated with the new additions and improvements proposed in the recommendation. Those costs include utilities, insurance, maintenance and an additional administrative position at the elementary school necessitated by the addition of 4K.

By law, operational increases have to be asked as a separate question and cannot be combined with a building debt question in a referendum. One-third, or roughly $125,000, of those expenses would be absorbed by the district’s operating budget, but the remaining $250,000 would require increasing the revenue limit. If the increase starts in the 2016-17 school year, the maximum mill rate impact per $1,000 valuation in the first year would be 49 cents, which would then drop to 23 cents in succeeding years.

Members reconsidered whether to add 4K to the elementary school in light of the impact it could have on the two off-site day care programs currently facilitating 4K. Committee members acknowledged that incorporating 4K into the elementary school and staffing the program with SCC staff would impact the businesses, but most likely the advantages of having students, staff and resources under a single roof would be a better long-term solution. They affirmed that community partnerships are still valuable and felt that before- and after-hour services from both businesses would still be needed.

Committee members recognized they had not previously addressed the issue of air conditioning in any of the new additions or renovations.

“Computer labs are air conditioned for a reason. These machines kick off a lot of heat. If we are going to increase our use of one-to-one technology like laptops, that’s obviously going to increase the heat. Air conditioning provides the best learning environment for our kids,” Widiker said.  

Using a bid submitted by McKinstry to add AC to the recently renovated elementary school, Widiker arrived at an estimate of $1.4 million to provide AC where appropriate in all three buildings. Director John Hueg pointed out that AC, in addition to contributing to a comfortable learning environment, also impacts humidity control and air quality. The committee agreed to recommend the addition of AC while cautioning that the cost to do so would need to be incorporated into the budget without exceeding the community’s capacity to pay for it. Such consideration could include decreasing what could be spent on other items in the budget.

Uhlenbrauck recommended that the $700,000 budgeted to build a new bus garage be revisited with the benefit of more specific plans to achieve a more accurate estimate.

Hueg suggested that going forward, it would help the decision making process if the task force could provide the board with more specific analyses comparing the initial cash investment with the long-term savings for such items as the AC and bus garage.

“We want to be careful not to end up being penny-wise and pound foolish,” Hueg said.    

Carrie Fisher was contracted by the district to help coordinate a communication plan to increase the odds of a successful vote in November. Fisher briefly described the roles of a communication, outreach, inreach, canvassing and finance committee. Committees will swing into action as soon as the board has adopted a resolution.

The communication committee will be responsible for crafting the message and producing the educational and informational materials necessary. The outreach committee will use those materials to educate community members through meetings with community groups ranging from the Lions Club to church groups as well as open forums.

The inreach committee is responsible for the same duties with regard to school personnel. The canvass committee will be responsible for getting out the vote in November. The finance committee will be responsible for raising funds (separate from any district funds) to be employed in getting out the vote.

Fisher encouraged FTF members to continue their involvement in the process by joining one of the committees and spreading the word community-wide that she is recruiting volunteers for all committees starting immediately. Volunteers can contact Fisher at