Esko School Board OKs two referendums for fall ballotIt seemed almost like business as usual at the Esko School Board meeting Tuesday night. Only a handful of guests were in the audience, and rhetoric was kept to a minimum. But when all was said and done, the board unanimously endorsed two important referendums to go before the voters in November’s general election.
By: Wendy Johnson, Pine Journal
It seemed almost like business as usual at the Esko School Board meeting Tuesday night. Only a handful of guests were in the audience, and rhetoric was kept to a minimum. But when all was said and done, the board unanimously endorsed two important referendums to go before the voters in November’s general election.
“There was not a lot of discussion,” admitted School Superintendent Aaron Fischer. “Due to recent circumstances [such as widespread flood damages to the school’s athletic facilities], we knew we had to either prolong the agony or deal with it.”
The board voted to pass a resolution to place a $341,000 operating referendum on the November ballot to help cover the basic, day-to-day operating expenses of the district.
“We had to take $90,000 in cuts last spring, and we anticipate that the audit is going to show us at a deficit budget,” said Fischer.
The levy, if passed, would provide the district with $341 per pupil unit. He stressed, however, that would not be the amount paid by tax payers.
“Our proposal is centered on the bare minimum amount of money we think the district needs to have to provide programming for our students,” explained Fischer.
The board also voted to pass a resolution to place a $2.7 million athletic field referendum on the November ballot. The referendum would be for a new football/soccer field, including bleachers and lights, a running track, a ticket building, a storage building with locker rooms and upgrades to the softball and baseball fields.
A $6.7 million referendum, which included several of the same projects as this new referendum, failed by nearly a 2-to-1 margin in September 2009.
“The board was cognizant that it needed to basically cut that plan in half [if we were to bring it to the voters once again],” acknowledged Fisher.
He said the board has conducted a series of working sessions over the past four years to figure out how to address the basic needs of the district at a cost that residents could afford. A series of recent events, including June’s devastating flooding, brought all of that to a head, however.
The years have taken their toll on Esko’s aging athletic complex. Late last fall brackets attaching the lights to one of the poles detached and left the lights dangling by an electrical cable. A crew dispatched to repair the situation claimed it was a safety hazard to reattach the lights.
After it happened to another set of lights in the spring and both Minnesota Power and Musco Lighting Company deemed the poles unsafe, a decision was made to cut down all four poles.
Later in the spring, H&B, a certification company from Eden Prairie, Minn., refused to certify the bleachers as safe. So did the Carlton County building inspector.
“We knew they weren’t doing well, but we didn’t anticipate that they wouldn’t pass inspection,” Fischer said.
A price quote for reconditioning the bleachers came to $300,000, while Fischer found that new bleachers could be installed for between $80,000-110,000. But that money was not available in the 2012-13 fiscal budget.
In addition, the press box/coaches booth was found to be rotting and unusable. Two custodians were able to tip the press box over.
“I’m not a building inspector, but that seemed to concur that something was not right,” Fischer said.
While the bleachers, press box and light poles were removed, other issues arose with the June flood. A loss of power meant the football scoreboard stopped functioning, the cinder track surrounding the field washed away, lime on the baseball field washed away and made it unplayable, a building used both as a hockey warming house and football locker room was closed because of mold issues, the hockey association’s Zamboni was ruined and nearly $90,000 in equipment and machinery was lost in a water-damaged storeroom.
“I know the superintendent and the school board are concerned about it, but they don’t want to put Band-Aids on it,” football coach Bill Hudspith said.
Fisher said he’s noticed a marked change in the dialogue among the people of the district during the course of the recent deterioration of the athletic facilities.
“People have expressed concerns about them in the past and wanted to see something happen, but they didn’t want to invest any more money in them,” said Fisher. “Now, they’re starting to say the facilities no longer look appropriate for the school and they don’t reflect what our district is all about.”
Temporary fixes are in the works, however, until a more permanent solution is settled upon. The football team will play at 4 p.m. Fridays, with a possible option of relocating or bringing in portable lights for the home finale. Girls soccer games are expected to go on as scheduled.
Three- and five-row risers from the baseball and soccer fields will be utilized on Fridays for football games, power may be restored to the scoreboard and an announcer’s table might be set up on the field.
School officials are pursuing portable lighting options or playing at an alternate site for at least one late-season game, but otherwise the Eskomos will work things out the best they can.
“We’ve explored the option of renting other facilities, but the kids want to play on our field and play at home,” Activities Director Chad Stoskopf said. “We want to make it as good of a situation as possible, but we’re up against it because it’s in rough shape and needs a lot of work. It’s going to be a unique feel at Esko this year, because for football and soccer it’s going to be a little more intimate.”
“We’re not going to let all this be a distraction for our season,” said Fischer.