No round 2 in fall

Frederic school referendum defeated

Gregg Westigard | Staff writer

FREDERIC – The Frederic School District referendums were defeated decisively on April 3, with 60 percent of the votes cast against the two issues.

The district cannot bring a referendum back to the voters for a year, according to Josh Robinson, district administrator. This brings a pause to a district concept that has been in the planning stage for several years and the active stage since last June.

Two questions were on the April ballot, borrowing up to $12.7 million for facility improvements, and exceeding the levy cap by up to $500,000 annually for operating, staffing and maintenance costs. The vote on the bonding issue was 399 yes and 572 no (58.9 percent). The recurring revenue issue was defeated by a vote of 390 yes and 578 no (59.7 percent). Voters across the district voted uniformly against the issues with the only support coming from some of the 24 voters in Daniels.

The limitations on bringing the issues back to the voters were explained by Robinson on the district’s website. He said that the district cannot seek another referendum in the fall, saying “As of Jan. 1, 2018, new limitations set in 2017 Act 59 limit a school board to approving no more than two … referendums … per calendar year.” Robinson goes on to say that the district would have to wait until the spring 2019 election before asking for another referendum.

The Frederic district has been studying a bonding referendum for several years, looking at presenting a new borrowing issue in 2018 when most of the present long term debt is retired.

According to district figures, the actual debt service levy of $918,162 due in 2018 would drop to $266,850 for the levy year 2018, due in 2019. The district said that it could  hypothetically issue $13 million in new bonds without raising the levy. (This is the same message stated by former Polk County Administrator Dana Frey when he said that the county could build the new highway facility without raising taxes).

In anticipation of that funding opportunity, the district started a facilities study in June 2017, contracting with Market & Johnson and SDS Architects to conduct a complete look at all the district buildings.

That study, presented to the school board on Dec. 19, 2017, included every possible issue idea raised, from immediate code issues and roofing problems to desires such as a combined athletics complex. The study also included detailed estimated costs for each element of the study. The total estimated cost included $3.9 million for the elementary site, $2.9 million for the 6-12 site and $3.4 million for a new athletics complex. The combined estimate for the three areas, including contingencies and fees, was $12.7 million, a figure close to the $13 million estimated limit for new bonding without raising the levy.

Meanwhile the school board hosted the Building Our Future Through Community Conversation event last November. The three-day conversation brought together 150 participants who shared thoughts on where the school district came from, where it was and where it should go. The top identified theme out of that discussion was “Implement a pupil support and service team that includes social workers, RN, school counselor and provide support and education to students and staff for mental health, substance abuse and trauma.”

On Jan. 10, at its monthly meeting, the school board discussed the referendums. It tentatively approved the entire facility study options, putting the ideas out as one bonding issue. And it approved the levy limits override referendum as a recurring or annual increase. The board presented two scenarios for using the additional operations funds, a multilevel system of support team and a list of expected operations cost increases for the coming year. The first scenario represented the top theme from the Community Conversation. The board did not go into detail on how the increased operations funds would be allocated between the two scenarios.

The board took final action to approve the two referendums at a special board meeting early in the morning on Jan. 16, the last day it could act to get the issues on the spring election ballot.

That was followed by the series of open houses and presentations that led to the April 3 vote.