St. Michael-Albertville School District Superintendent Dr. Ann-Marie Foucault said she has tried to stay positive in the months leading up to next week’s $36 million bond referendum.
However, she said that the question of what will happen if the bond doesn’t pass has come up frequently during her meetings with community groups about the bond. So, at the last school board meeting, Foucault went into some detail with board members about what they would need to consider if the bond does not pass.
“Transparency is important, and that’s what I’ve been trying to do, not be threatening to the community members,” Foucault said.
Foucault laid out the possibility for a lease levy to address the school district’s most pressing concern, which is the shortage of classroom space at STMA High School. The bond seeks to add 12 classrooms on to the school, bringing its capacity to 2,360 students, but if it doesn’t pass, the school board would have the authority to use a lease levy to add on up to an additional 20 percent of a school’s size without voter approval. That would allow them to add six classrooms on to the high school at an estimated cost of $2.38 million. This action would bring the high school’s capacity up to 2,180 students, but Foucault said that a 2016 demographic study projected the school’s population to be 2,282 for the 2020-21 school year.
Unlike the bond, the lease levy would not be eligible for state aid, meaning local taxpayers would be covering the full expense. If the school district decided not to dip into their reserve fund to fund or partially fund the addition project, which they could do, Foucault said the lease levy would cost a $200,000 homeowner $18 per year, which is 40 percent of what the $36 million bond would cost a taxpayer with the same value house.
The school board could also utilize a lease levy to rent portable classrooms, but the school board did not seem as interested in that option after Foucault said out the expenses of the portables. The board could lease levy for the expense of the portable structures themselves, which would be around $556,000 per year, but there is an estimated cost of $488,000 for set up and tear down that they would need to fund through district dollars. The district would need to pour a foundation for the portables to sit on, and they would need to hook up utilities such as water, heat and electricity.
“It just seems to me that with the cost of portable classrooms, plus the half-million cost of utilities, that’s a million dollars we could use for something that is permanent,” board member Gayle Weber said.
If the bond doesn’t pass, board member Hollee Saville asked if the school board could bring a bond back to voters again and potentially still get the 12 high school classrooms built in time for the 2018 school year, which is when the district would need to begin using portables or the additional six classrooms a lease levy could provide. Foucault said she felt it would be too tight of a timeline, explaining that if a bond was brought back for a vote in November 2017 and passed, the bonds would be sold in February 2018 and construction would take 9-12 months from there, according to the district’s architect, Bob Rego.
“I’m not a contractor, but I’d guess it would be difficult to do that,” Foucault said.
“One thing I don’t want our community to miss that …. I’m already worried about fall of 2017,” board member Jennifer Peyerl said regarding high school space. “We’re already not fitting, and I don’t want to send a message to our community that we’re fine now, it’s not a big deal, and that we have more time. We are full now, and even next year we’re bringing in probably hundreds more than we’re sending out.”
“About 150 more,” Foucault corrected.
Board members fretted about how constituents may react to the school board even discussing these ideas, saying they don’t want people to feel they are being threatened or coerced.
“I’m aware of the downside of disclosing this information at this point in the proceeding,” board chair Jeff Lindquist said. “I would err on the side of being as open toward people as we can be, and err on the side of full disclosure. Then people can make their own judgements, good or bad, but at least they have the most complete information available. They have all of the information that we have, and I think that’s important and why we are having this discussion tonight.”
Beyond the high school space shortage, the school district would have the fund the $418,000 in necessary pool upgrades – located at STMA Middle School East – using district funds if the bond does not pass, and it would also need to reconsider open enrollment policies. The district’s kindergarten center, Albertville Primary, currently has 453 students enrolled with a capacity of 460, so without the eight-classroom expansion they would need to keep a close handle on enrollment numbers.
While early voting is underway now, the official bond referendum election date is set for Tuesday, Feb. 7, at STMA’s Middle School West. Voting hours that day are 7 a.m.-8 p.m.