$59 million school bond vote Tuesday
It’s T-minus-six days until Detroit Lakes area residents vote on one of the most significant school building bonds in its history — $59 million.
The amount of money being asked of tax payers is large, and yet so is the long list of district-wide improvements it would provide for.
There is a lot at stake for many.
So why does there appear to be such a hush over the community? Where are the cheers and the jeers and the yard signs? Where are the people who stand up at community meetings and vehemently defend or denounce the plan?
At Monday night’s third and final community informational meeting at the Roosevelt Elementary School, there were fewer than a dozen people there who weren’t involved with the school district.
Although school leaders fielded a few questions from those who showed up, it was as anti-dramatic as it comes.
Frazee met opposition for an operating levy a couple of years back. It also failed a couple of times before passing.
Lake Park-Audubon had a loud “vote no” group that helped defeat that bond referendum several times before it finally passed a few years ago.
Pelican Rapids is currently fighting its own very public school bond referendum battle.
So what, if anything, is to be made of the sound of crickets in Detroit Lakes?
The only organized citizens group that seems to be vocalizing their stance is the “vote yes” group.
Nearly three dozen community members in favor of the referendum have been volunteering in the effort to educate the public on the plan. The co-chairs of the group, Matt Boeke and Natalie Bly, say people have stepped forward to fill the needs of the group – everything from marketing with mailed flyers to fundraising to telemarketing and public speaking.
“We just want to get the information out there so that people know … what does a ‘yes’ vote mean and what does a ‘no’ vote really mean?” said Bly.
And while the group’s obvious goal is to get residents to vote in favor of the project, Boeke says what they’re really concentrating on is answering questions.
“We just want people making informed votes,” he said, “and either way they vote is OK … what we don’t want is them voting no just because they don’t know enough about it.”
If school district leaders have anything to say about it, that won’t happen.
Superintendent Doug Froke, Business Manager Nancy Olson and nearly every school board member has been around to roughly 30 different organizations throughout the city speaking to anybody who will listen about the referendum. Rotary clubs, Kiwanis, Jaycees, Silver Sneakers, the hospital, BTD – they’ve all had the chance to take in the “yes” pitch.
“Because this is such a personal issue, we have provided a number of forums for folks to come and listen and ask questions,” said Froke, “and what we’ve done is tried to provide different vehicles from which they can choose to get that information.”
And although that information has been slowly, steadily and relatively quietly circulating throughout the community one presentation at a time, it’s been tough to find too many disgruntled enough to make the confrontational scenes sometimes seen before an election like this.
Tom Seaworth is the longest standing member of the Detroit Lakes School board, and according to him, Detroit Lakes residents have been incredibly respectful while asking good questions throughout the entire process.
“And I think some of that is because we (the school board) have gained some trust over the years by being fiscally responsible with taxpayers’ money and cutting the property taxes over the last four years,” said Seaworth, who says people aren’t so much questioning if the project is truly a need or even how much it costs, but rather how they came to their decisions on the details of the project.
“And so then when they hear us talk about some of those things they tend to be like, ‘ok, that makes sense,’ and when they realize how long we’ve been working on this, the fact that we brought in a citizen’s group to help us and and have brought in consultants to make sure we don’t make mistakes … I think knowing all that takes the emotion out of it for people because they know we’ve done our due diligence. And then it’s just a matter of them deciding whether or not they want to support it.”
But despite the civil dialogue and quiet community that has thus far accompanied this referendum’s campaign, supporters know all too well that doesn’t necessarily translate into the votes they want.
“It does make it hard to gauge what’s going to happen,” said Boeke, who says they know they’re up against what could be some quiet resistance like senior citizens who may be on a fixed income and snow birds who own seasonal homes.
“I think it’s going to be a tight vote, to be honest,” said Boeke, who says strong communities start with strong school districts. “You get the strong school district, businesses come, people come. We don’t feel like we’re going to win this by a landslide, but we wouldn’t be doing it if we didn’t truly believe we could win it.”
Residents within the Detroit Lakes School District can vote early or absentee at the Becker County Auditor’s Office at the county courthouse, second floor up until Monday, Nov. 5, at 4:30 p.m.
Tuesday, Nov. 5, the polls will be open from 2 p.m. to 8 p.m. with locations at the Detroit Lakes High School and Middle School.
There is a list of which township residents should go to what location on the school’s website www.dlschools.net.