HJ/EDHerald Journal, Dec. 12, 2005

Last-minute questions on HLWW referendum answered

By Liz Hellmann
Staff Writer

Last-minute questions about the bond referendum for the Howard-Lake-Waverly-Winsted school district were clarified by Superintendent George Ladd last week, before the vote takes place Tuesday, Dec. 13.

“I would like people to have the facts as they prepare to vote, so they are equipped to make an educated decision,” Ladd said.

Such questions include why the district needs more space, how much enrollment has actually increased, if everything in the proposal is necessary, and if more costs will be assessed after the bond, such as interest.

Enrollment, up or down?

For the last three years, enrollment has increased 23 students per year, and, according to a recent demographic study, shows no signs of slowing.

“We know that our enrollment is going to keep increasing because of our preschool numbers,” Superintendent George Ladd said. “Our statistics show that 26 percent, one out of every four, of preschool students attending come from the new housing developments in our three communities.”

Unnecessary taxes?

If the bond would pass, taxes will increase by $372 annually for a $150,000 home for the next 25 years, including interest.

But, if the bond doesn’t pass, taxes will keep going up to accommodate non-voter approved levies, such as health and safety and deferred maintenance for the schools, Ladd said.

According to a recent audit, if the building bond would not pass, about $4.5 million would need to be spent during the next 10 years to meet requirements for health and safety, ADA, and deferred maintenance in all three buildings combined.

“All of those costs are included in the building bond. If it passes, that’s it. If it doesn’t pass, taxes will have to keep going up to accommodate those costs, and we will be nickeled and dimed to death,” Ladd said.

Money will need to be spent on the existing facilities either way, and Ladd feels it is more prudent to spend that money planning for the future, than playing catch-up with older buildings and rented facilities.

“This proposal is a common sense approach to our district’s needs for the future,” Ladd said. “Even with the tax increase, our district taxes will still be lower than three of the four surrounding districts.”

Why is more room needed?

Ladd is also concerned about space issues, and meeting the state recommended class size of 17 to 25 students is becoming increasingly difficult.

“Space is at a crunch in our buildings,” Ladd said.

As education has changed to offer more programs, such as special education, adult education, drug and alcohol abuse prevention, environmental studies, and Title IX, space is at a premium in all three buildings.

The school district is currently improvising by using 12 portable elementary classrooms, converting a kitchen cooler into a speech room, sharing a special education room with three teachers, using the gym as a cafeteria, cutting down on its availability for physical education; and conducting another special education class in a locker room.

The building bond would not only provide more classrooms to accommodate these students and programs, but also bring the school district into compliance with the Minnesota Department of Education guidelines for larger classroom sizes, according to Ladd.

What does the bond include?

The bond includes construction of a proposed new 500-student high school with bus garage and athletic fields, conversion of the middle school and high school building in Howard Lake to a middle school only, and additions to the Waverly and Winsted elementary schools.

The bond will be paid off in 25 years. The $26.5 million bond also includes all interest and deferred maintenance, health and safety, and ADA costs on all buildings for the next 10 years, expenses that will have to be accounted for, whether or not the bond passes.

The $26 million question will be stated like this:

Shall the school board of Independent School District No. 2687, Howard Lake-Waverly-Winsted Public Schools, be authorized to issue its general obligation school building bonds in an amount not to exceed $26,465,000 to provide funds for the betterment of school sites and facilities, including a new High School and remodeling and additions of the existing Elementary Schools and Middle School?

Voting is from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 13 at HLWW High School in Howard Lake, Winsted Elementary, and Humphrey Elementary in Waverly.

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