Projects, elections and snow days subject of school board meeting
Published 8:40 am Friday, April 19, 2019
The Austin School Board met for a special session Thursday afternoon to go over several agenda items, ranging from snow days to the MacPhail addition project to what direction the district will be heading after the failed bond referendum.
After the bond referendum failed to pass during the April 9 special election, the Austin School Board reexamined what they perceived went wrong, and focused on the future.
Last Tuesday’s special election asked residents to approve a $24.888 million school referendum package that would have allowed the construction of 16 new classrooms, a gymnasium and office space, a kitchen and cafeteria remodel and new playground installation that would have been added onto Woodson Kindergarten Center.
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From canvassing the district, only 23.6 percent of registered voters actually voted, with 3,190 total votes cast. A further breakdown of that figure showed that 1,498 people said yes while 1,692 voted no.
Board Member Richard Lees expressed frustration over the failed referendum, calling into question whether the school board officials had done enough to get information out to the voters and to talk with taxpayers directly.
“It didn’t seem like we were as active with this referendum,” Lees said. “The school board, we didn’t do our job in helping with this referendum. Did we go to any of these units? These (votes) could have made a difference. We needed to talk straight to the voters. This wasn’t gonna cut it.”
Responding to Lees’ criticism, Chairwoman Carolyn Dube stated that the election results showed what the community wanted and that no one was to blame for how the election ended given the tight time constraints for approaching voters with the referendum that was dictated by the state, as well as tax season.
“Our goal was to talk to the people,” Dube said. “The timing was tough. We had an uphill battle and the voters shared what they felt. There was a large concern for the level of taxes. It’s time for us to go back, decide our next steps and look for a new solution.”
Board member Don Leathers said that from talking to constituents, many said they were unaware of the referendum and heard almost nothing about the issue, stating that “a lot of people were uninformed.”
Superintendent David Krenz said that he would take “full blame” for the outcome and the lack of voter turnout, but several board members and other staff members strongly disagreed with his statement.
“The community got a letter (about the referendum),” Krenz said. “The problem was that I couldn’t convince the people to get out and vote. … we had a tremendous working committee and they were here making phone calls and it was difficult getting (voters) here. Now the question and focus is where do we go from here?”
With projected growth, the spacing issues in the growing district’s student population won’t end with the failed referendum. Eventually, APS will need to revisit several issues in the next few years, such as the high school reaching critical spacing levels in the next three to four years.
“We need to be looking at long-range planning,” Krenz said. “Where do we go from here? Do we need to see a new elementary school in the future? We have got to be aware of that.”
Here were some of the other business items that were discussed.
Pre-sale report for $5.775 million certificates of participation
One of the visitors to present to the board was Jeff Seeley, an Ehlers Leaders and Public Finance representative. Seeley presented the pre-sale report about the $5.775 million certificates of participation (COP) that would be one of two financing sources for the MacPhail project at the high school annex.
The COPs are not general obligations to the district, and payments are subjected to the yearly appropriation of funds made by the school board as required by state statute. The certificates are being issued for just shy of 15 years, with the principal on the certificates being due on Feb, 1, 2020 through 2034.
This is all part of the Austin High School’s annex building being renovated as a result of a three-year partnership between the district and MacPhail Center for Music, which includes a 13,750-square-foot addition to the second floor and 17,850 square feet of alterations to enhance music opportunities for students and community members, according to a previous story.
The choir room will be available for the start of the 2019-2020 school year, with the second floor construction aiming for completion by December 2019. The finalization of the construction is expected by summer 2020.
Funding from the project comes from a $8.7 million contribution from The Hormel Foundation, with APS paying off the remaining balance, and the overall project was expected to cost about $14.5 million.
The brutal winter season left many school districts statewide not being able to meet the required minimum of instructional days.
However, Gov. Tim Walz signed into law a bipartisan bill that would not penalize districts for protecting students and staff during inclement weather events and extreme cold. APS ended up using 11 snow days and between two to three half-days.
“It was a great law,” Krenz noted. “Each district is a little different, but statewide there were safety concerns and many districts had closures whether it was for tornadoes, or floods or snow and cold.”
Human Resources Director Mark Raymond said conversations were currently ongoing to see if opportunities could be created to help different department staff make up time for the missed school days, as well as making sure that opportunities would not interfere with summer plans that may have been established beforehand by staff members who worked multiple jobs.