What's next for Cloquet school plans?
Five public meetings. More than 600 completed online surveys. A scientific [statistical analysis based on random sampling] poll on the way.
With the Cloquet Public Schools’ facilities needs now well known, what’s the next step in the process?
The fifth and final public meeting designed to elicit feedback from Cloquet taxpayers was held Monday night and now that most of the data is in, the process of synthesis can begin.
But all the data hasn’t yet been gathered, so the process is still ongoing.
Originally, Superintendent Ken Scarbrough had hoped to present the Cloquet School Board with options for a building project sometime in April. However, the addition of the scientific survey will push that process back about a month.
“I don’t think the delay will mean a whole lot,” Scarbrough said. “We just want all the feedback we can get.”
The board vote to spend about $14,000 for a 300-person scientific phone survey last month.
“We’re looking at people’s tax tolerances, and what they feel they can afford,” Scarbrough said. “There are aspects of the project regarding the middle school, possible locations, and what to do about enrollment issues with our elementary schools.”
Consultants handed out initial drawings for a “bare bones” middle school at Monday’s meeting, and then detailed likely costs for amenities residents have said they wanted as “a la carte” items to determine the rough size of a final construction bill.
“The consultant called it the ‘Red Plan’ because it was drawn in red ink,” Scarbrough joked. “I asked him to please not do that.”
According to consultants, the cost of a basic school, providing needed boosts to school security, accommodating other identified school needs and providing needed maintenance to existing district facilities would come to $46.9 million — before items like a swimming pool and/or amphitheater are addressed.
The additional tax bite for the owner of a $150,000 home would be approximately $134 annually, $446 each year for the owner of a $250,000 business and $294 annually for the owner of a homesteaded 160-acre farm.
A swimming pool, which has proven popular with attendees of the public meetings, would cost between $6.2 and $6.6 million depending on the location of a diving bell, with the cost of a 950-seat multi-use concert hall estimated at $5.8 million. That could bring the total referendum amount to just under $60 million if both options are adopted, with higher tax impacts across the board.
That’s why input is so important.
“It’s important that we hear from all opinions in the community,” Scarbrough said. “We’ve heard from people that were talking about the impact on tax base and that sort of thing. It’s important we address those concerns.”
Scarbrough said there are no plans to have full citizen committees as were formed in Hermantown and Duluth — the so-called citizen task force originally talked about for Cloquet to work with the design process — but said the public meetings served the same purpose.
“The four public meetings provided the kind of feedback we would have been looking for had we formed a much smaller task force of interested citizens to work on the facilities plan,” he said. “Instead, we had a lot of citizens with significant interest being able to contribute to the study. We also had many school board members and school administrators attend these meetings to participate in the process and to help keep track of the public’s ideas and feelings about the project.”
So once the scientific survey is done, what’s next?
“The board will decide whether they have a strong feeling about going ahead with any specific project,” Scarbrough said. “Then we have additional work to do. We have to get more specific with the design project and send it to the state for review and comment.”
Then, the real heavy lifting would begin — public education in advance of a referendum vote.
“I don’t think that anyone thinks we’ll put up a basic middle school,” Scarbrough said. “We have to deal with what to do with the community ed office, the ECFE program and other options. But we’ll be asking for citizens to help us get out the information.”
State law prohibits the district from lobbying for a plan, and restricts it to simply educating the public about what is in any proposed referendum.
“If the board decides on a referendum after the state’s review and comment process, we’ll ask for citizens to help us get out the information,” Scarbrough said. “As far as any kind of campaign, there would have to be a citizen committee operating outside the district. I haven’t talked with anyone interested in a ‘vote yes’ campaign, and in any event, we’d much rather see that generated by citizens.”