The Free Press, Mankato, MN

November 1, 2013

School bond deserves attention

Why it matters: Schools are key to a region's economic development and taxpayers make significant investments in them


The Mankato Free Press

---- — Voters in the Mankato Public Schools district will be asked to approve a $69.5 million bond referendum Tuesday that aims to address significant enrollment gains and the space needs that go with them.

It’s no small matter. It’s important residents be informed on how the district executive team and school board arrived at assessing the need for the proposal. It’s best to learn now before voting so as to avoid buyer’s remorse later.

Here’s what we know:

School district enrollment has grown by 530 students since 2007. Projections show there will be another 757 students by 2017. That’s a 10 percent increase. That figure really isn’t even a projection. It based on students or future students who are already here. School officials use the actual number of new children born in the area to make their projections. In fact, there has been a 1 percent enrollment increase in the Mankato Area Public schools annually for the last 10 years.

The existing buildings and schools cannot accommodate the anticipated enrollment gains. Already some schools are pushing capacity. The East junior-senior high school has capacity for 1,555 students. By 2016, it will need to accommodate 1,794 students, exceeding its capacity by 239 students. Middle school students will grow by 22 percent counting only students currently enrolled and not accounting for Mankato’s population growth.

A new middle school on the East side will take care of some of the enrollment bulge housing a total of 1,100 students and some district technology services will move to the East High School building freeing up room at an overcrowded West High School. The West cafeteria will be expanded for the growth of the student population and to give some breathing room to a site that most agree is jammed getting some 700 students through in three shifts.

For the same enrollment growth reasons, Dakota Meadows will be expanded to include a 6 th grade and make it consistent with the three year middle on the east side. Garfield elementary will be expanded to house a K-6 program and Bridges Community School will also move there adding capacity to accommodate that school’s waiting list.

Finally, East Senior High will be renovated to serve the growth in the high school population and make the campus a high school only. Some district wide programs may move there as well.

The impact of the bond issue will mean an increase in property taxes of about $134 per year on a home valued at $200,000. Commercial properties valued at $1 million would pay an additional $1,649 in taxes annually. Other property’s taxes from the referendum would be higher or lower based on their value.

Agriculture land of 160 acres with a $150,000 dwelling with a total value at $1.1 million would pay $452 more per year in property taxes.

The bond interest rate would be around 3 percent, still a relatively low rate in today’s economy. The debt service for the Mankato district is currently $716 per student, a little more than half the state average of $1,275.

All of this would accommodate the enrollment growth of 10 percent for a school district that covers 140 square miles, an eventual 8,300 students with three high schools, two middle schools and 11 elementary schools. There 1,092 full time employees at Mankato schools and the annual budget is $89 million.

It’s hard to imagine another solution to the enrollment growth that has shown to be very consistent in the Mankato area. Without approval of the bond, school officials say they might have to stagger school shifts, transfer students to other schools or make other significant changes.

The economic growth of the region as a whole has created a situation where the schools can accommodate growth at a lower cost than in the past because of lower interest rates and an expanded tax base. The cost to taxpayers in the current referendum is actually less than they paid in 1992 for the referendum less than half as big, according to Mankato Public Schools Director of Business Affairs Jerry Kolander.

There is more information including a property tax calculator at the Mankato schools website at www.isd77.org.