The Wrenshall School Board approved the purchase of nearly $3.7 million in general obligation and tax abatement bonds in the next phase of its renovation projects during a special meeting Thursday, Sept. 23.
The money is expected to be used to renovate the recreation building on the school’s campus to house the district’s career and technical education program. It is part of Phase III of a nearly $13 million project to improve indoor air quality, security and other long term maintenance at the school.
After three failed referendums since 2017, the Wrenshall School Board has taken a different route to make improvements at the school.
In 2018, the Minnesota Legislature approved a change making it easier for school districts to approve major improvements to buildings that are classified under long term facilities maintenance.
Superintendent Kim Belcastro asked Shelby McQuay of Ehlers Inc., the district’s financial advisor, if many districts had used the mechanism for facility improvements. Wrenshall has used the strategy over the past two years, but it is a different approach from how the district has done things in the past, according to Belcastro.
“There’s quite a few school districts and school boards (that) have moved forward with (indoor air quality) projects and board-approved long term facilities maintenance projects,” McQuay said. “There’s some boards that are still not comfortable using their board-approved authority, but they’re falling behind on their facilities and what we’re hearing from them is that it may be showing in enrollment.”
Belcastro said districts still have a lengthy approval process required by the Minnesota Department of Education to move forward with projects like the one in Wrenshall.
“There’s still plenty of back-work to be done to put it all together, just like we did when we were going out for referendums,” Belcastro said. “We had to go and get the approval and all of that, but I just feel we’re really fortunate that we’re able to upgrade the school for our students and staff in a different way.”
According to the impact statement from Ehlers, taxpayers with a residential homestead property valued at $150,000 will see an increase of $77 on their property taxes as a result of the latest bond.
Since 2019, the Wrenshall board has approved $13 million in bonds, equal to the amount rejected by voters in November 2018. Voters also rejected a $12.5 million proposal in 2017 and a $14.4 million ask in 2019.
Board to conduct candidate interviews
The Wrenshall board is also planning to conduct interviews with candidates interested in serving on the school board until January 2023 during its committee of the whole meeting Oct. 13.
The board seat was vacated in August when Michelle Blanchard resigned to become the principal at Wrenshall. The board chose Bill Dian to replace Blanchard during its Aug. 16 meeting.
A community petition signed by 200 voters was submitted earlier in September to reject Dian’s appointment. District officials and the school board did not conduct interviews of the candidates before they appointed Dian.
Belcastro said so far there have been five names suggested to the board. They include: Karola Dalen, Cindy Bourn, Ben Johnson, Caroline Johnson and Janaki Fisher-Merritt. Dian cannot be considered for the position since the community rejected his appointment with the petition.
Belcastro said she would reach out to each person to ask if they are interested and schedule interviews.