By Emily Bialkowski
There’s no doubting it’s been a contentious election year, layered like a cake with issues, amendments and referendums.
In Caledonia the school board is seeking voter approval for a one-day, $495,000 bond to help pay for maintenance and technology needs.
The budget situation inherited by the current school board has everything to do with how the district financed the new middle school/high school building in 2002.
More than $14,000,000 came from a state loan that requires the district to tax at the “maximum effort” based on property values.
In short, property owners are getting taxed to the max to pay off the debt. That leaves the district no room for maintenance and technology needs. All the money is going to pay the debt.
A one-day bond will take $495,000 away from the yearly payment to help fill the gap. This action does extend the life of the loan, though Caledonia is already set to pay off the debt in 30 years as opposed to the original 50 years. Estimates indicate each $495,000 bond will extend the life of the loan by six months to a year.
This action does not raise taxes.
The complexity of such funding prompted the school board to hold informational sessions across the district in the weeks leading up to the Nov. 6 vote.
In Brownsville Oct. 22, Superintendent Ben Barton addressed a handful of participants.
“The ultimate goal is to help people be informed so they have all the knowledge we have when they go to the ballots,” he said.
The school board used this strategy last year and requested a one-day bond for the same reasons.
In his presentation Barton said the community’s support of that request yielded some progress, including almost $160,000 used for technology upgrades and more than $150,000 for building and grounds needs such as lighting, lunchroom tables, boiler repairs and more.
“I came from other districts… If we wouldn’t have passed that one-day bond last year our students would be working with technology way out of date,” Barton said.
The bottom line for the Caledonia School District is it needs money to maintain its buildings and prepare students for life outside school.
To accomplish both, the school board may ask for more one-day bonds down the road.
School Board President Michelle Werner admitted to needing up to five one-day bonds “to get us back on track.”
“We have been off track, shall we say, on curriculum and technology. The board is looking at other ways, such as lowering the interest rate (on the loan) and working with our legislators. This isn’t the only option we’re looking at, but right now, as a board, this is the only thing we have to keep us going.”
Barton agreed, saying, “The one-day bond is one strategy, but we want the community to know that we’re working with legislators to possibly forgive some of the interest on our loan. We don’t have all our eggs in one basket. We’re trying to do some different things for our future.”
Some of the items identified for attention down the road include: HVAC updates, elementary roof, parking lots, track resurfacing, school vehicles – state law only allows vehicles to be used for 12 years – boiler needs, curriculum resources and continued technology development, which Barton emphasizes the most.
As residents set out to the polls to make several major decisions this Nov. 6 it’s noteworthy to point out that 40 school districts in the state of Minnesota are asking voters for operating referendums.