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A community consensus: Community group emerges to begin discussing potential school bond

A community group has emerged around the upcoming school bond referendum issue.

Nancy Young, a Detroit Lakes woman heading up the group, opened the first meeting by saying at this time, they are not a yes or no group, but she hopes they will "organically evolve into a yes or no group," as they conduct research alongside the school board and independently and discover what the district needs and how to solve the space issue.

"At this time, I wouldn't expect anybody to blindly vote yes or no," she said, delving into the known needs.

Young pointed to enrollment and capacity numbers, showing that Rossman, with the portables, is designed for 435 students; Roosevelt, including the existing addition, is built for 550; the Middle School is built for 750; and the High School has a capacity of 850. However, all of the buildings sans the high school are currently over capacity by about 600 kids.

"There are almost 600 students that are being stuffed into these schools--and they don't fit," she said.

Everyone at the meeting, including former vote-no proponents, agreed there was a prominent space issue that needs to be addressed. It's the not the "what" causing disagreement, it's the "how."

And money is a big factor--if not the biggest factor--deciding how the district can go about adding space.

The survey the district conducted after the last bond referendum failed said $40 million was the cap cost voters could stomach; however, Young and the rest of the community group were wondering if that number has since come down now that property taxes have recently gone up for some.

Other issues still up in the air and in need of vetting, according to the group, are the potentials for closing open enrollment, proposing a structured bond option, and figuring out what exactly the district's "needs" are versus their "wants."

But amidst all the questions, some agreement does seem to be congealing. Much of the group agreed that a new elementary school would make the most sense now that the district is fixing up the middle school exterior and planning to get the fifth grade out of that building. They say a new elementary school would also be the most cost-effective solution.

The group also seemed to mostly agree that the Tower Road location probably shouldn't even be considered because it was such a contested part of the last referendum, and they fear it may tip the no votes just enough to fail another referendum.

As for moving forward, the group is hoping to continue growing. Young mentioned spreading the word and encouraging business owners to join in the group, since they are among the taxpayers affected by a referendum.

The group will also be looking to hold an upcoming meeting in the Callaway area to include that demographic in the planning process but, most importantly, they will be taking a long, hard look at the districts needs in the upcoming months.