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Letter: LP-A proposal shows encouraging signs

On Nov. 4, for the fifth time in three years, the Lake Park-Audubon taxpayers will vote on a school bond referendum, this time for $20 million. While I believe for several reasons this referendum should and will be defeated, I am nevertheless encouraged by one aspect of the proposal that may provide a basis for a sixth bond referendum, in the future, that would be acceptable to both sides.

The current proposed referendum includes $3 million for demolition, major repair and upgrading of the Audubon facility. For the first time, the LP-A School Board has offered a moderately priced alternative to an otherwise expensive overhaul or replacement of the existing facility in Audubon. In the past four defeated referendums, the LP-A School Board has proposed projects that brought both communities' facilities up to meet all Minnesota Department of Education guidelines for the most modern of school buildings, which seems unnecessarily excessive for this district at this time.

The LP-A School Board has persistently implied up to now that a bond referendum for anything less than 100 percent MDE code compliance of all facilities would be unacceptable to the board and would not be approved by the MDE.

If a reasonable cost approach can be applied to the Audubon facility now, why can't it also be applied to the Lake Park facility? About 300 students attend the school in each town. The LP-A school staff is presently providing excellent education with existing facilities.

A lower cost, 10-year bond referendum that addresses the most urgent repair and upgrading needs of both community facilities could buy time for the district to better measure the risk of a larger long-term investment in its school buildings.

There are currently too many unknowns affecting the future of the LP-A school district to risk a large long-term bond obligation at this time. The LP-A student population has declined from 1,060 students 25 years ago, to 630 students today. There is reason to believe that the downward trend of student enrollment will continue, with or without thoroughly updated school buildings. If student population continues to decline, the district will continue to lose state revenue, and along with large bond costs, would face increasing per-student operating costs. If this occurs, either taxes sky rocket or school staffing and programs decrease. Perhaps even the solvency of the school district will be threatened. Many of our more vibrant neighboring school districts have recently been suffering those same problems.

After this Nov. 4 vote, a sixth bond referendum must be developed that addresses problems with the existing facilities in a manner that does not put the LP-A school district in jeopardy.

Let us hope that district voters will also vote for new board members on Nov. 4 who will look for common sense and financially responsible options to expensive total replacement of the Lake Park facility. Three school board candidates who can provide fresh thinking are George Kohn, Dan Hughes and Carmen Walter. -- Paul Stary, Audubon