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How the district is misleading us with the proposed school funding

By Brett Kues

Fri, Nov 23rd, 2012
Posted in All Commentary

By Brett Kues

Hello, my name is Brett Kues, and I must confess, I am confused about how to vote for the school tax levy. Perhaps it is because I have only lived here a few years or possibly because all my life, neither my education nor my logic prepared me for how well the so-called leaders in Rushford can muddle simple decisions. What confuses me now is why there is, and how to vote on the Dec 19th ballot asking citizens to spend 15 million dollars to build a new school to house 300 students. I was not here for the flood, but I know most of the citizens including my wife and family, who were. I know many personally who had to take new mortgages on houses they paid for once just to stay in a town they loved. A town where its leaders have lost their memory and seem to think they can build anything they want on a whim and just charge it to its already strained citizens.

I could not figure out how the school could possibly plan to spend $15 million to build a school, so I reread the sample ballot. Here is the wording to pay close attention to: [The money will be used] “for the purpose of providing funds for the acquisition and betterment of school sites and facilities, including to provide funds for the construction of a new Early Childhood-5th Grade Center.” I think the school district, which can’t seem to balance its budget, is trying to get us to pay for its mismanagement and poor self control. The wording, while cleverly written, is basically telling us they are going to borrow up to $15 million to fund lots of things including, but not limited to a new school. This is where my conservative nature and mistrust of our leaders kicks in. First, I do not like being misled, and second I do like to know where, if approved, every penny is going to be spent. The artistically-colored referendum brochure does a great job of the first, and a terrible job of the latter.

Since I moved here, I have heard several ideas put forth to utilize a small piece of property bought by the school district. Every idea put forth in the past came up short because there simply was not enough room on the property, or enough funding, usually both reasons presented an insurmountable obstacle. This is what confuses me. The same obstacles are still present. The school just found a way to word things differently. Since there is no way to utilize the property fully and accomplish the districts stated goal of having all the facilities on the same property, they have decided to mislead the public and say they are going to accomplish the project in phases. My guess is, after phase one, they will “discover” that Phase two is not possible and look for other properties to build a middle school and high school. I beg you not to trust what the district is saying. They already know the next phases are impossible, and are intentionally misleading us. As proof I refer you to the State guidelines that the school must know about. According to the Minnesota Department of Education,

Facilities and Organization department; “A K-12 school requires 35-40 acres plus 1 additional acre for each 100 students of estimated student enrollment and community use/partnership program capacity, including possible additions.”

Even the loosest interpretation of these guidelines will tell us if the district wants to combine all three schools on one property, they will need well over 40 acres. The current property is not even close to large enough. The project is doomed before it starts. While I applaud the facilities task force for trying to work with the property they got stuck with, I condemn them for not recognizing the high probability that in the long term, spending $15 million to complete 1/3rd of the project on a property that is physically too small for it is a bigger mistake than buying the property in the first place. Where I grew up, there was no shame in making a mistake; the shame came from not correcting it. Our school district seems determined to move forward with this mistake and compound it.

The planned funding also confuses me, but before I discuss it, let me remind you about the people who are asking us for $15 million. These are the people who admit to screwing up their self-titled “plan A” by missing the state bid and losing an opportunity to earn a piece of the state’s $47.5 million dollar grant. My guess is they knew they would be rejected based on the size of the property, and chose to just move straight to Plan B. Their “plan B” is to mislead the public and have us fund the entire project that they hope to complete in 5-7 years. I do not trust the abilities of these people to handle this project efficiently and effectively. If you are still confused, consider this.

According to the national averages, a new elementary should cost between $6.5 and $7 million. Our district wants to spend over double the national average.

I remind you that for only Phase 1, they are requiring us to agree to a $269 tax increase for the average home in the area. Personally, I think the estimate is low, and the actual increase will be much higher. I have no reason to think this other than every other project the town has been involved in since the flood has turned out to be flawed in price or practice or both. However, for now I will accept the numbers they submitted. What confuses me is how they plan to fund the remaining Phases?

Here is how I see it: to complete construction on a seven million dollar elementary school, 1/3 of the project, they plan to spend $15 million, so by my account they plan to spend approximately $45 million for the entire project, and they plan to do it in 5-7 years, where does the money come from? It seems to me that the entire project would mean an additional levy of over $800/yr for the average household, and that’s if they come in at or under budget. Now that you have some facts to digest, do you trust the district to manage this efficiently? I do not. They can’t operate inside their current budget, and want to borrow $15 million to build a $7 million school. They have shown a willingness to mislead us, and should not be trusted.

The colorful brochure tells us that we need to “invest in our children’s future.” This also confuses me. I may be naïve, but I measure a school by its academics and not its facilities. My kids went to an elementary school that on its centennial was accredited as a presidential blue ribbon school. When I chose the school (which is so barbaric it does not even have air conditioning), I chose it because of its academic prowess, and state ranking. The age of the facility (over 100 yrs) never entered my decision process. Families considering a move to this area look at property taxes and the districts academic ranking, not age of the school. I would submit that having a community with high property taxes, and a school with an average state ranking (there are 228 schools in the state that rank higher, and several in the area) would do more to keep our community from growing than a shiny new school would do to draw families and business.

The district is also saying that building a new elementary school will improve student safety and security, and save commute time. Imagine how silly I feel, I haven’t even heard about or know anyone who can remember an accident at the school. I did not even know there was a safety problem. As for the claim about saving travel time, according to Google Maps, it is around four miles to Peterson; Winona Senior and Middle schools are that far apart in the same town. So the argument about operational efficiency is fancy wording that means little. The school’s handout also says building a new facility will reduce traffic at the current site. How does this happen? If you replace the elementary kids with middle school kids, does that not even it back out? I am not an educator, but in math class in the 2nd grade, I was taught that if you subtracted an amount from a number, then added the same amount back to it, you ended up with the original number. The traffic around the current school will not decrease, and there will certainly be a large increase on Eiken Dr, so where is the decrease? It’s in Peterson that’s where...

Maybe that’s why I am confused, the brochure makes it sound like trusting $15-45 million to our leaders is a good idea, but after giving it a close scrutiny, it is clearly a really bad plan. Wow, my confusion is gone. I am voting No.


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2:32:20, Jan 14th 2013

nickifa says:
I do not think Mr. Kues wants to truly discuss misleading and untruths-You must 1st be an honorable man to demand truths in others and Corporations!

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