by Jim Boyle
Elk River Star News
The Elk River Area School Board has agreed with a committee it formed that the best way to deal with crowding in the school district is to bring forward a bond referendum.
Lease levies could help, but with only $17.5 million available, they would not provide enough space to handle current capacity issues and projected enrollment increases, School Board Chairwoman Jane Bunting said at the March 10 Elk River Area School Board meeting.
“We have not made final decisions on the details of what would be included, but we are targeting November as the appropriate time,” Bunting said in a series of prepared remarks.
The chairwoman was addressing community members who participated on one of five attendance zone committees that examined crowding at their individual schools and gathered as a group to look at facility issues on a more global level.
“We thank you for all your work, and we are hopeful by working together we may reap positive results,” Bunting said, noting her words were being cablecast. “Thank you for the time and talents you brought into those meetings.
“It was a fast turnaround. A lot of information got thrown at you. There was a lot to digest.”
The School Board discussed the recommendations that were presented by the Attendance Zone Policy Committee at a previous board meeting. The recommendations included short- and long-term solutions to school capacity issues in the southern part of the district. The option of lease levy and its tax impact has been discussed by both the committee and the board. The maximum amount that can be lease levied is $17.5 million.
Committee members reviewed estimated costs of a third wing at Rogers High School and an addition of classrooms at an elementary school.
They also discussed the options of temporary classrooms, leasing space for early childhood education and a fall bond referendum.
The School Board was in agreement to allow the administration to move forward with negotiating a lease for off-site space for early childhood education in the southern part of the district.
Bunting said, as for the bond referendum, the board has discussed and agreed the referendum will require an exhaustive campaign to communicate the district’s capacity requirements and enrollment trends as well as to educate members of the community on the tax implications and benefits of running a bond versus a lease levy.
“We agree with the committee that the lease levy is the least appealing,” Bunting said. “It is the most costly to our taxpayers and our current lease levy capacity is currently insufficient.”
A successful bond referendum will not, however, take care of the district’s needs in the short term, the committee concluded and board members agreed.
To satisfy the short-term needs, Bunting said the district will:
•Lease space for Early Childhood Family Education, Early Childhood Special Education and school readiness.
•Convert existing space into classroom space in all buildings over capacity (i.e. computer labs, media centers).
•Examine enrollments and consult building administrators regarding the use of portables.
•Consider closing open enrollment at crowded schools.