Building A Better Future For Our Children

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In May 2015, following the decisive loss of the Benson Public School’s levy referendum we wrote, “Goodwill, low negatives, and
a good initial impression are necessary to
win over voters, but so is a well prepared and thought out presentation of the value of what you are offering the voter for his or her support.” All of those essentials were missing in 2015.

What we see now, as do many in the community, is a complete turnaround with things done right. People who were adamantly opposed to the $18.7 million building levy referendum in 2015 are enthusiastically supportive of the new $26.3 million proposal.

There is a very different feel to this building levy referendum effort. It started with the school district seeking direct input from citizens representing three primary groups: Farmers/landowners; the business community and local residents; and the school district employees.

The three groups looked at the needs of the school taking into account its current and future enrollment numbers. They assessed the current condition of the school district’s buildings with input from architect Paul Youngquist of Architects Rego + Youngquist of St. Louis Park. They discussed how school programs and facilities fit into the needs of the community from childcare to training students to fill jobs available right here. They looked at the educational, athletic, music and performance arts needs of the school district and community.

A plan developed that was agreed to by all three groups and presented to the school board for its approval. It gave a clear picture of why each phase of the project was necessary. Their plan showed fiscal responsibility but didn’t short the work that needed to get done.

Because funds raised through the levy will significantly improve our facilities, the outcome of the building levy referendum will have a direct and lasting impact on the number of kids who enroll in our schools, the teachers we attract, and the variety of programs we
can offer students. With new and signi
ficantly upgraded facilities, we just might go from a school district that loses a lot more students to open enrollment than we attract, to one that turns around those numbers. Each student we bring in is worth about $8,000 in education funding.

Business and industrial leaders in the community told the board of education that the quality of school facilities mean the difference between whether or not they can bring new employees here. If potential employees see run down, aged facilities, they don’t care about the quality of education that takes place in those buildings – their first impression turns them away.

However, if they see visual, attractive evidence of a local commitment to education they will give the community a chance.

Quality school facilities are also crucial to attracting new teachers, new staff at Swift County-Benson Health Services, and new employees for our city and county.

We are seeing a significant generational turnover in our workforce making our efforts to attract young people to the community critical of our future.

There are two other reasons why now is the best time to pass this levy.

Over the past 40 years, the average cost of bonding has been 8 percent. Today, interest rates are around 4 percent, not as low as they were a couple years ago, but still very low by historical standards.

Further, there is currently a 40 percent reduction of levy taxes on farmland that is supported by the State of Minnesota. A new legislature and governor elected this fall could end that break. However, if school district residents pass a levy in August, the 40 percent tax break is grandfathered in for the 20 years of the bond.

The proposed levy would:

- See the construction of a new performing arts center to replace the 1928 Junior High Auditorium. All three groups unanimously agreed that it made no sense to invest millions of tax dollars in renovating a 90-year-old building. The 1950 Junior High classroom building will also come down.

- A new wing would be added onto the west end of the Northside Elementary School to house the infant and toddler day care, pre-school children, and Discovery Kids programs.

- A new cafeteria would be constructed at the Northside Elementary. It would have a multi-purpose floor allowing its use for school activities and meetings. The new dining area would free current Northside gymnasium space for fulltime use for recreational and athletic activities.

- New classrooms at the Benson Senior High School would provide a collaborative learning area bringing it up to date with 21st Century innovative learning approaches. Existing classrooms would be renovated.

- A new gym would be added where the swimming pool is today. It is large enough for a full-size basketball court as well as seating for 100 or more people.

- Both the Northside Elementary and high school would see increased security measures installed protecting the safety of our children.

Past generations of taxpayers have stepped up when the community’s children needed new and improved facilities.

Who paid for the 1928 auditorium?
Who paid for the 1950 Junior High school? Who paid for the 1958 Northside

Elementary?
Who paid for the 1964 Benson Senior High? Of course, additions were constructed on our schools over the years as well. The projects included the 1993-94 additions to the Northside Elementary. There were also additions to the high school in 1975-76 for the swimming pool, shop and art classes, and an auxiliary gym. Taxpayers supported all those projects.

We have no children or grandchildren in the Benson schools. But that is not what we base our decision on to wholeheartedly support this referendum. We back this referendum because it is our turn to support the future of the community’s children. It is our turn to support the needs of the businesses of the community. It is our turn to support the needs of our faculty to have modern, quality facilities in which to teach our children.

 

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