The Free Press, Mankato, MN

October 3, 2013

Mankato district holds bond meeting for voters

Residents ask about district growth, building operation costs

By Amanda Dyslin

---- — MANKATO — Only about a dozen community members attended Thursday night's informational meeting about Mankato Area Public Schools' $69.5 million bond question on the Nov. 5 ballot.

But many of them brought good questions to the East High School media center about such things as operational costs associated with an entire new middle school building and expected class sizes if voters pass the referendum, among other things.

The bond includes a $50.1 million middle school; an $8.4 million addition to Dakota Meadows Middle School, making it a grades 6-8 school; a $2 million expansion of West High School's cafeteria; and a $5.6 million East Junior/High School renovation, which would turn the facility solely into a high school (with the junior high students attending the new middle school).

A $1.8 million Garfield Elementary School renovation would allow the sixth-grade facility to accommodate grades K-6. (Bridges Elementary would move into Garfield to allow that school to expand, and district programs would be moved into Bridges' current building. Students who would now attend Garfield would go to Dakota Meadows.)

Other costs include $600,000 for construction management and $950,000 for bond issuance costs.

Supt. Sheri Allen outlined the projects Thursday and made it clear why they were needed.

“If there's anything I'm sure you know, we're growing,” she said, emphasizing the expected 10 percent population growth over the next five years. “We're not saying we hope they come. They're here.”

The location of the school was a question several audience members had. While the location won't be determined until after the vote, Allen said the district has been looking into various pieces of land on either side of Highway 22 on the east side of the district, where the most growth is occurring.

Questions also were asked about staffing, maintenance and utility costs associated with a large new middle school facility.

Allen said the teaching staff and principal from East Junior would transfer to the new building. New hires would include janitorial and kitchen staff. Heating and cooling the building, as well as other upkeep costs, would come from the general fund.

Allen said the state per-pupil funding means more students in the schools results in more funding to pay for those additional costs.

A few of the audience members were current and former educators, including Annie and Randy Muske who live in Mankato but both teach out of the district. The couple said they're impressed with Mankato's growth and would be voting in favor of the referendum.

“We're very interested in supporting education,” Annie Muskie said.

Jay Eichhorst, a music teacher at East Junior, said he would be voting in favor as well because he sees the growth in the district firsthand in the classrooms. East is crowded during passing times, and there's little room for storage, among other issues.

“There's certain things you can't do,” Eichhorst said.

Pat and Deb Buley of Mankato attended Thursday's meeting to find out just how much growth the Mankato district has experienced and whether these projects are warranted. The Buleys had children who grew up in the district, but now that they're grown, “we're out of the loop,” they said.

The couple will be attending the next informational session to glean more information about class sizes and the tax impact before making a decision on how they'll vote.

If the referendum passes, the tax hike for the average $150,000 homestead would be $94 per year, or $7.83 per month. For a $225,000 homestead, the tax increase would be $154 per year, or $12.83 per month.

Jerry Kolander, director of business affairs, said lower interest rates and more taxpayers in the district mean that taxpayers will be paying less for a $69.5 million bond than they did in 1992 for $24.6 million.

Mankato district voters have routinely voted through referendums in the past, including a district operating levy that will be in place until 2017-18; and a $33.3 million bond in 2008 for Rosa Parks Elementary and an Eagle Lake expansion, among other things.

The next informational session is 6:30-8 p.m. Tuesday at Dakota Meadows.