District 88 referendum passes

NEW ULM – The District 88 school bond referendum vote is proof of Yogi Berra’s famous quote, “It ain’t over ’til it’s over.”

When District 88 Superintendent Jeff Bertrang left the Brown County Courthouse Tuesday night, it appeared the district’s $46.9 million school building bond referendum had been defeated by a narrow 49-vote margin out of 4,777 votes cast.

But after sending out emails to school board members with the news and sending a grim but determined statement to the press, Bertrang got an email from a parent who had been looking at the results on the city of New Ulm’s web site.

“My precinct doesn’t look right,” the email said. Bertrang called the County Auditor-Treasurer’s office, which re-examined the precinct’s totals. They found the number of votes on the election card didn’t match the number on the tape. The vote totals were run again, and the new totals showed the district’s bond referendum had passed by a margin of 2,642 to 2,590.

Bertrang pointed out that these are unofficial numbers, waiting to be canvassed and authorized, but it appears that the district will be able to move ahead with its plans to design and build a new high school, and remodel and repurpose its existing buildings to include a full time junior high, an elementary school and a kindergarten-pre-K and community education building.

“As I said in my earlier statement, these are issues that aren’t going away,” said Bertrang. “It’s exciting that we will now be able to move ahead on them.”

School Board Chair Duane Winter was also relieved and excited that the referendum had passed.

“When I heard it had failed, I thought, like Jeff said, the problems aren’t going away. We need to get re-energized and figure out how to deal with them. When I heard we really won, I was happy to know we can finally move ahead on this. I’ve spent a lot of time working on the district facilities committees and task forces, and I’m happy we are able to move forward.

“I know this means a sacrifice for a lot of people, but as a community, it’s good that we are building something that will benefit so many. To see this kind of change coming is exciting.”

The referendum will allow the district to sell up to $46.9 million in bonds to finance the building of a new high school on the western edge of town, and to remodel the current high school as a middle school. The Jefferson Elementary School will be converted for grades 1-5, and the Washington Elementary School will become a pre-K and Kindergarten building, with room for Community Education. The bonds will also allow the district to build a new fine arts auditorium, and athletic fields and facilities. The district will be able to remove the portable classrooms that had been housing high school math classes, and redesign the traffic lanes around the new junior high and Jefferson school to allow for off street bus drop off lanes and lanes for parents to pick up and drop off their students.

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