Athletic upgrades, operating funds on the line for Esko
By: Wendy Johnson, Pine Journal
There’s an old adage that states, “Dance like no one is watching.” The Esko football team feared they might be doing just that this season – playing with no one watching. The school’s aging bleachers and lighting system failed inspection over the past year and had to be demolished, forcing all home games to be played in the afternoon and spectators to either stand or be seated in lawn chairs or on temporary risers. Add to that the devastation from the June flooding that took out the sound system and locker room facilities, and you have the perfect storm for a lack-luster season. In spite of that – or possibly because of it – the Esko football team stands at 7-2 as it goes into Thursday’s Section 7AAA championship.
Many of the student athletes, along with staff, administration and members of the Esko School Board, aren’t willing to take the chance that the school’s athletic program will remain safe and successful in the future, however. Earlier this fall the board voted to pass a resolution to place a $2.7 million athletic field referendum on next week’s November ballot. The $2.7 million 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.
According to district officials, the current athletic complex lacks a usable track, bleachers, lights and restrooms. The baseball field and storage building, along with the hockey shelter, were severely damaged in the flood. All of the facilities are nearly 40 years old.
“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,” stated School Superintendent Aaron Fischer.
If passed, construction on the athletic facilities would begin in the spring of 2013, and it is anticipated that most of the project would be completed by fall 2013. The proposed facilities plan would be paid in full in 10 years, and the estimated annual tax impact for a residential homestead with a market value of $200,000 would be $49.91 (full information on the tax impact of the proposal is available on the district website at: www. esko.k12.mn.us).
Also on next week’s ballot will be a $341,000 operating referendum to help cover the basic, day-to-day operating expenses of the Esko School 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 annually. Fischer stressed, however, that would not be the amount paid by tax payers.
Under the terms of the referendum, the state would pay 29 percent of each $341 per pupil unit through aid payments, and the remaining portion would be spread out over all of the taxable properties within the school district boundaries, including businesses.
“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.
According to a statement issued by district administrators, the levy would allow class sizes to remain at the current levels of 22 students per class for grades K-1; 24 for grades 2-3; 26 for grades 4-6; and 30-32 for high school.
The levy money would also allow the district to maintain current elective classes in areas such as foreign languages, art, family and consumer science, business and music and restore its industrial technology courses.
The levy would remain in place for nine years, and the estimated annual tax impact for a residential homestead with a market value of $200,000 would be $49.91.
A $6.7 million referendum, which included some 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.