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Why vote ‘YES’ for R-P Referendum?


By Angela Colbenson

Fri, Dec 14th, 2012
Posted in Rushford Commentary

By Angela Colbenson

R-P School Board Chair

On December 19, Rushford Peterson school district will be asking their voters to approve up to 15 million dollars to be utilized for building a new elementary building plus utilize a small portion to rehab the current elementary to house the middle school students.

I’ve read a lot of comments in the paper, and heard a lot of rumors around the community. My purpose of writing this letter is to clarify as much information as possible.

Why are we moving kids into Rushford, when Peterson is not as old? Currently we are experiencing problems with all of our buildings. Peterson is currently housing our middle school kids and we are cramming 22 kids into classrooms that were built for 16 kids. Our library is partitioned off to include a special education area, we are utilizing a small storage room for a special education room (which does not have a fresh air room handler), the doorway for the lunchroom provides a large congestion problem for the flow of students. Our boiler needs to be replaced. We simply do not have the room at the building to move more students from the high school in Rushford into the Peterson Middle School. We do have room at the Rushford building to house the additional middle school students. Optimally, it would save us money to have one site. We would save money on staffing, food service, busing, heating and other utilities.

At Rushford, we have issues from the flood and issues because of the age of the building. If you enter my daughter’s ECFE classroom, you will notice cracking tile against the outside wall, which was newly replaced after the flood of 2007. This is caused from the movement under our footings in the ground. As a result, some classroom floors are dropping a couple of inches in the upper level of the building. We hired a professional architect to verify it was safe for students. We also have plaster that has fallen from the ceiling and onto our false ceiling in our district office. Pipes have disintegrated in the ground. We have crumbling, dusty bricks. The list goes on. If we want to compare it to restoring to the White House, for example, just realize that it will cost us considerable money, and we would always need to earmark money meant for student learning into cost of maintaining the building. This option is up to the public. The state of Minnesota’s funding for school building caps the amount given at 50 years of age. That means we’re getting the same money for our 106-year-old building as another school with a 50-year-old building.

We have invested in the buildings. At Peterson, for example, we’ve removed the greenhouse that was causing air quality concerns, we’ve painted many classrooms, fixed roof leaks. In the band room, we paid for radon gas abatement, and have a fan to make the air safe for kids to breath. We still have issues from the original contractor that decided to place cement blocks on top of each other, instead of how most do it by staggering the blocks. As a result, the water gets into the blocks and flows all the way down. To combat this, we paid for landscaping and gutters to pull the water away from the building. We’ve also spent money on our Rushford building. To get a list, please contact the district office in Rushford.

Why not just build it all now? If the 15 million dollars is approved by the taxpayers, our average school bond amount will be just under the state average for schools. Currently at $0 dollars, we will join schools such as Lanesboro, St. Charles, and Lewiston-Altura which are under the state average. If we voted to move ahead with a K-12th grade facilities, we would be higher than all the schools in our area, and higher than the state average.

It is our hope that the state will come back with funding for Rushford Peterson in the future. The R-P Superintendent, myself, a community business person and other board members have made various trips to the capital to seek specialized funding for our new building. Over the several trips to the capital, many questions were asked of us such as 1) When is the last time you asked our voters to provide a new school (2002) and 2) When is the last time your taxpayers invested in a school building (43 years). Their reaction sent a subtle message to me that they would not help unless we verified our community couldn’t fund a portion of it. We personally sat at the Governor’s desk with a team of people for 45 minutes. The Governor said he would support our new school if the bill reached his desk. Unfortunately, that ball was dropped by the house of representatives.

How are you going to fund the additional 6-12 school building? Currently, we are getting only $6,000 to $7,000 each year in state debt redemption aid to help pay for our new K-5 school. In 2002, the state was willing to contribute 75 percent of the building. If we would have been approved back in 2002, we would have been “locked in” for the state’s contribution amount. It is our hope that legislators will give more funding to build schools. It is also our hope they will earmark funds specifically for R-P after our commitment to build the K-5 facility. In my past, I worked as a Director of Finance for a school that built an addition to their high school building. At that time, their ratio was 80 percent state funded and 20 percent local funding. Another interesting item was that they weighted the payback heavily on the last 10 years of the 30-year bond payback schedule. So, when taxpayers voted, it barely impacted their first 20 years, and the last 10 matched their first 20-year rate of payment. Perhaps that is an avenue we could take, with the hope that we get the same state aid that was given to other schools. To proceed with a K-12 all at once now, would be to guarantee very little money or help from the state. It would also “lock in” our tiny amount of funding from the state.

How do we know the costs given are accurate? If you spend time on the internet trying to research, first let me thank you for trying to find the facts. However, everything you find on the internet is not always “fact.” For example, if you Google “average cost of an elementary school building,” you get a reference from RS Means Company. The website shows you that a 45,000 square foot building is $6.5 - $7 million.

This cost information is only for the building. It also appears they want you to purchase their product to get all the information to cost a building project. What the website neglects to indicate is the year the building data is from and it does not include various items that our building costs do include such as: 1) we’re projecting a 68,700 square foot building, 2) 7 acres of site development (parking lot, entry drives, sidewalks, underground utility pipes, playgrounds for Kindergarten and grades 1-5, PE fields and play fields, site lighting, grass seeding and sodding, trees and landscaping, water retention ponds, signage, and much more, 3) remodeling of the existing elementary school for middle school needs, 4) furniture for new school, 5) technology for the new school and 6) construction testing for the new school. When you put our size of building at 68,700 square feet plus the items listed above, plus inflation to our bid date in 2013, your cost of $15 million matches the national average costs. Each year we put off building adds $45,000 of cost to the taxpayers. (source: ATS&R)

Has the school district balanced its budget? Yes, Rushford Peterson has balanced their budget for several years. The data is available to you to review at: http://education.state.mn.us/MDEAnalytics/Data.jsp .

Do we have enough space to add a 6-12 facility in the future? Yes, the state has allowed us to use the park and activity field area adjacent to the school property as green space, which allows us to more than meet the 35-40 acre requirement. (source: MDE)

How much more will the 6-12 addition cost? That depends on how long we wait. The impact to local taxpayers also depends on how much the state will give us in the future. If we would have built the K-12 with this bond referendum, the price tag would have been $30,000,000. (source: ATS&R)

Why are we paying it back over a 20-year time period? As your school board, we elected to choose to pay for the school over a 20-year time period rather than a 30-year time period. If you picked a house valued in our district at $125,000, it would mean an increase from $220 (30 year) to $269 (20 year). In shortening the time period, we would save taxpayers in our district a cumulative interest amount a little over 5 million dollars. As a board, we felt it was well worth the 49 extra dollars each year to save millions over time. (source: Ehler’s and Associates)

What are our options if we don’t approve it? We would continue to operate in our current facilities. However, we may not pass future inspections of our buildings. The state could close our facilities. If that were to happen, we may not be given enough time to go to our voters to approve a referendum. We could also consolidate with other schools. If we did, we absorb their building bonds and levies for learning and our taxes go up. (Houston is at the highest of our schools in the area, Lewiston and Lanesboro are under the state average of costs) (source: Ehler’s and Associates) Again, this option could be up to the public if the referendum doesn’t pass. Be aware we will have to house students elsewhere while construction goes on.

Our school has great test scores, why do we need a different facility? Academic prowess is paramount for a district and community to continue to serve the children for the future. We believe this prowess comes from a curriculum that can be delivered to students and a facility that enhances the curriculum. A new facility has many advantages to an older facility. Advantages such as more fresh air in the classroom, better natural light at the teaching stations and various sized spaces in the school will serve the specialized needs of each learner. Each of these components is proven to improve student learning and the health of the staff and students. (source ATS&R)

What are we doing with the money? First of all, we are utilizing cost estimates to arrive at the $15,000,000 from our consulting professionals. Once the voters approve it, one of the future steps will be to bid out the costs for various items of the school building process. That is why the ballot states “up to 15 million.” Please be assured that all the money will be used to go into the building and lot improvement. It is against the law to utilize the money for other things, such as labor negotiations. The money is put into a fund completely separate from the general fund, food service fund or community service fund. The board will approve construction purchases (as well as all other checks) at our public monthly school board meeting. The money will also be audited by our independent auditor, LarsonAllen.

The school board works for the kids and the community. The school board doesn’t work for the school board or the superintendent. If you vote no, please be aware that option for the future of R-P Schools will be very limited. We have a very creative community and if you vote no, I would greatly appreciate the viable options you would recommend.

When you go to vote, please do so for what you feel is best for our students and what you feel you can afford. We live in a wonderful community; we’ve shown pride in our past by donating to a beautiful athletic facility, we’ve banded together to help clean and fix up after the flood, we all worked together to build the Creekside park, and we’re generous to others in need. Even 106 years ago, think of the community pride and ambition we had to haul the huge limestone rocks for our current school’s foundation. Please don’t forget to vote on December 19, 11 am to 8 pm at the high school gym lobby.

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