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It's official - Cloquet to seek new middle school

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Washington Elementary Principal Connie Hyde handed out cinnamon red hots to Cloquet School Board members, administration and support staff prior to Monday night’s meeting this week. The more superstitious among them may have felt it was a portent that a heated discussion lay ahead over the fate of the school facilities plan. But nothing could have been further from the truth.

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When Agenda Item XI-7, “Consider approval of a resolution approving a facilities plan,” came up near the end of the Board’s fairly streamlined agenda, not a word was spoken except a unanimous chorus of “ayes” from the board members in attendance (members Dan Danielson and Dave Battaglia were absent).

After years of discussion, months of planning and weeks of strategizing, it seems all had been said and done by the time Monday night’s final vote rolled around, and board members indicated they were ready to move ahead.

The facilities plan pushes the final price tag precipitously closer to the benchmark that district residents indicated they would support when polled in a scientific phone survey last month by the district’s consultants. But the inclusion of a swimming pool in the plan for a new middle school will likely make at least the first of the two-part plan more palatable for those who lobbied for it.

“The community keeps telling us they want the pool,” said board member Duane Buytaert in an interview later in the week. “It’s kind of a ‘go big or go home’ kind of thing. With the pool included now, we had to take some things out at the elementary schools to keep the final cost in line, such as a new media center for Washington and a new cafeteria at Churchill.”

The final facilities plan as passed by Board members, consists of the following:

  •  Build a new middle school and relocate early childhood programs and community education services currently located at the middle school.
  •  Include an eight-lane pool with the new middle school. Include, as a separate question to the public, an 800-seat auditorium in the middle school.
  •  Increase security measures, including remodeling of certain facilities.
  •  Include funding for deferred maintenance for District facilities.
  •  Authorize a bond referendum with two questions which will include:

QUESTION ONE: Approximately $48.9 million for all the above-listed projects except an 800-seat auditorium.

QUESTION TWO: Approximately $6.9 million for an 800-seat auditorium

“The school board feels that the entire set of building plans for questions one and two are extremely important to help us provide a quality education for our students,” commented Superintendent Ken Scarbrough on Wednesday. “The survey we recently conducted shows that the public agrees that these projects are important.  The survey also shows that the public feels like it only can support a property tax increase equivalent to about $150 per year on a home valued at $130,000. We call what the public feels it can support as ‘tax tolerance.’”

Under the final plan adopted Monday, the first year tax impact on a $130,000 home in the district would be $123 under Question One and $147 under Question Two.

“Since the tax impact is so close to the tax tolerance, we wanted to split the bonding question into two questions, each with less of a tax impact,” explained Scarbrough. “The first question, if passed, would allow us to accomplish most of the building plan and still remain well under the tax tolerance. If the first question passes, we still would like the public to be able to decide to approve the whole project but without jeopardizing the majority of the project included in the first question.”

In discussion during the working session prior to Monday’s meeting, board members asked Scarbrough what the likely time frame would be for the public vote on the referendum. Scarbrough indicated it would be January 2015 at the earliest, adding that Administrative Assistant Bonnie Monfeldt has been in discussions with County Election Official Paul Gassert to find out what other elections or additional conflicts might be taking place in the area during that time. He said other factors such as interest rates could come into play as well, but he suggested the most likely time would be the last week in January or the second week in February (Gassert will be out of town the first week of February).

Board member Jim Crowley questioned how a midwinter referendum vote might impact residents who travel south for the winter, and Monfeldt said anyone interested can vote absentee prior to that time.

Buytaert said the Board is hoping the final plan will be something voters in the district will be willing to embrace.

“If it doesn’t pass, we can try again,” he stated, “but we’re really hoping this will do it.”

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