School could set levy referendum for May

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Funds raised would go to facility improvements

Benson Public Schools could be going to the voters in May asking them to support a levy referendum for basic maintenance and upgrading of district buildings. Just what the projects would be and what they would cost has to be decided yet.

School board members are going to rely on input from a cross-section of district citizens for direction on the scope of a building renovation project. Those citizens will be brought together for several meetings, given a tour of facilities, told what problems each has and the challenges the problems present. They will then be asked to come up with a list of recommendations for a referendum.

By getting citizen input, the school board is hoping to go to voters with a project that already has broad community support.

One group that will be crucial to passing a referendum will be the farm community. It was likely a deciding factor in the voter rejection of the May 2015 $18.5 million building referendum. Farmers organized public meetings to speak against the 2015 building project.

There were two primary reasons why the farming community, and many who support it, rejected the 2015 building levy: The farm economy had taken a downturn as prices plummeted and landowners pay about 82 percent of the property taxes in the school district.

School board members are hoping a change in state law passed in the 2017 legislative session will ease some of the opposition to a building referendum. The Legislature agreed to provide a 40 percent credit to farmers on their portion of a property tax levy for school district building projects.

In supporting a May building levy referendum, the school board lists three other points:
- The district should have an auditorium to provide more gym space. It is currently down to two gyms at Benson High School. The main senior gym is now being used for concerts, plays and other activities due to safety issues the with Junior High Auditorium ceiling. Last April a two-foot by three-foot section of the ceiling fell on a seating area of the balcony.
- A special election in a school district can only be conducted on a second Tuesday in February, April, May and August, or the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November. Because the Legislature has set specific times when a referendum can be conducted, there is a limited window for going to the voters for approval for work that needs to get underway before the 2018-2019 school year starts.
- The district’s Facilities Task Force recommended completing maintenance. The district should follow their recommendation and move forward with an HVAC project for one of the buildings, outside the bond.

At its Dec. 18 meeting, the school board passed a motion to have Architects Rego + Youngquist of St. Louis Park work with community groups to develop a facilities improvement plan.  Depending on what the community groups would like to see, the district might look at only the Junior High Auditorium, more other facilities, or nothing at all, Supt. Dennis Laumeyer told the Monitor-News.

“This will be a grass roots effort, driven by community members,” he said.  “Other than a need for work in the auditorium, information will be presented to community groups, and the citizens will share what they feel should be done, if anything, with facilities.....”


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