Questions on District 88 bond focus on taxes, growth

COURTLAND – As the Aug. 12 primary draws near, voters continue to seek information on the District 88 Referendum.

The third of four public informational meetings was held Monday in Courtland, with a fourth scheduled for tonight in New Ulm.

In April, the School Board voted to place a building referendum on the ballot for primary election. If approved, this referendum would authorize the issuance of $46.9 million in bonds to build a new high school and remodel Jefferson, Washington, and the current high school.

As with the previous two meetings in Hanska and in Lafayette, residents voiced concerns that this building bond would impact farmers more heavily than home owners living in the towns. The sample given by the district placed $57 tax impact per year on a home valued at $100,000 by the county. The impact on 80 acres of Ag Land valued at $560,000 would be $441 per year.

Bertrang stated multiple times during the meeting that neither he nor the district control the property tax system, because it is regulated on a state level.

School Board member Patti Hoffman said that this tax system could be changed, but it would need to be done on the state level. A tax calculator is available on the district’s website for a more detailed tax estimate.

One speaker questioned what would happen if farm land values decreased in the next few years. Would the businesses and homeowners need to be taxed more?

Bertrang said that under that specific scenario, businesses and homeowners would see an increase in taxes, but he added that the number of homes and businesses could also increase during the next few years.

Another major topic was whether the New Ulm district would grow over the next few years. One speaker questioned why the district was having space issues now, stating class sizes were half the size as classes in the 1960s.

The District cited the need to conform with current education standards, such as all day/every day kindergarten, special ed. requirements, Early Childhood Special Ed, secure entrances, and computer labs. Bertrang said that currently portable class rooms are used to create extra space, saying “If we had the space, we wouldn’t have the portables.”

At this time it is estimated that between 155-160 students will be enrolled in kindergarten. The previous year saw 162 children enrolled in the district. A district study of pre-kindergarten demographics suggests class size will increase for the next four years.

Some residents felt that New Ulm was more of a retirement community and did not see a major influx of new students. Others argued that a new school facility could bring in more families.

Bertrang said that based on studies conducted before deciding to seek the referendum, it was believed that industry was growing in New Ulm. The Medical Center was specifically cited as an area of growth.

In the referendum fails, Bertrang said that the School Board would most likely attempt a future referendum, because the space issue would continue to be a problem.

In the bond is approved, the District believes the school will be built on the west side of New Ulm. Currently three sites are being considered.

The final informational meeting on the Building Referendum will be held at 7 p.m. today at the New Ulm District Administration Center Auditorium.

The district website (www.newulm.k12.mn.us/) includes the full text presentation given by Superintendent Bertrang.

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