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Referendum is reaching reality

As the District 833 School Board approaches a final decision next week on what will be on the September ballot, it is likely a third high school will make the grade.

Voters would also decide if there should be a stadium at the third high school, in addition to field improvements at existing high schools.

The board met in a workshop session last week to hear recommendations from Supt. Tom Nelson. The recommendation includes four ballot questions, with the first one focusing on adding a third high school. If voters give a thumbs up on all four, owners of a $200,000 home would pay an additional $100 in taxes.

Revised from the previous estimate of a cost of $92 million for a third high school, the new number is $101 million. It includes $9 million in improvements at Park and Woodbury high schools.

"We can't ignore our current high schools," he said. "People who attended forums stressed the need for equity in the high schools."

It also includes additions to Cottage Grove Junior High School and Grey Cloud Elementary School.

"The growth is here and it is real," Nelson said.

Projected growth, even if there are ups and downs in the housing market, shows a 1 to 2 percent increase in enrollment each year until 2015, according to demographers and Metropolitan Council estimates.

Barb Lukerman, a former state demographer, told district officials that growth should continue after 2015, but forecasting beyond that would be unreliable.

Science classrooms would be included for $900,000 at Park and $1.3 million at Woodbury. Auditorium improvements at both high schools would be included, in addition to classroom upgrades and lecture rooms the public could use.

Proposals that were rejected by district officials include new lockers at Park. The lockers will be refurbished instead, according to Assistant Supt. Randy Zipf.

The board also informally agreed to change the grade configuration district-wide to kindergarten to fifth-grade in elementary schools, sixth to eighth-grade in middle school and ninth to 12th grades in high schools. That is how the majority of metropolitan districts are organized.

The switch would free up space in existing elementary schools, negating the need to build more schools.

The second question includes $42 million to improve air quality in schools, partly because they are needed in schools that are 30 to 50 years old to meet Minnesota Department of Education mandates.

The total cost for the improvements is $90 million, with the district funding the remainder under an existing facility improvement levy. Cottage Grove and Liberty Ridge elementary schools would not need the improvements.

The third ballot question asks for $1 million a year for technology improvements. Currently, the district's plan is to upgrade computers on a 10- to 13-year cycle. That would bring upgrades every five years, if the question gets a favorable vote.

A fourth ballot question, for $6 million, includes a stadium for a third high school and improvements to existing stadiums that include refurbishing tracks and fields.

"This is the year for stadiums," said Board Member Jim Gelbmann. "We might as well go with the flow."

"And it's not for million-dollar players, either," said Board Chair Ron Kath.

Judy Spooner
Judy Spooner is the longest-serving staff writer at the South Washington County Bulletin. Spooner, who covers education and features in addition to writing a weekly column, has been with the newspaper for over 30 years.
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