Administration hosts sessions as referendum vote draws near
by Bridget Cooke
Last week, the Osseo-Fairchild administration held referendum informational meetings in hopes of encouraging a dialogue between voters and organizers to dismiss any last minute doubts before the two questions are put to a ballot Nov. 4.
Tuesday, Oct. 21, O-F Superintendent Bill Tourdot set up the forum at Fairchild Elementary. The following evening he did the same at Osseo Elementary School.
The meetings were held as public interest opportunities to make light of questions not heard as of yet or to shed light on any misconceptions before the board and administration sent out a mass mailing of compiled information to ensure community members understand every element of the impending referendum.
With a moderately low attendance, neither meeting brought forth a plethora of questions, however Tourdot was able to address pieces of the referendum, including the asking amount of $5.5 million to put into facility repairs such as the roof of the middle/high school, Osseo Elementary and a number of other failing structures.
During the presentation of facts presented Wednesday evening, the appraisal of issues included pieces such as an unstable ground beneath the playground items and the floor at the Osseo school, which has lasted since the 1970s, but is now coming apart and leaking a glue-like substance of an uncertain age.
Plans for the Osseo Elementary School include replacing large windows that let in both cold air and water throughout the winter and spring months in an effort to become more energy efficient. The roof, which marks its 40th year standing, leaks into several classrooms. Tourdot told a story, laughingly, of students taking turns to empty the buckets set in place to take in dripping water.
The first question to be listed on the ballot is to cover these problems, allocating most of the funding to Osseo Elementary, but also contributing to the high school’s structural issues, as well as a few at Fairchild Elementary.
In 2000, Osseo passed a referendum to pay for the middle/high school. Currently, homeowners in the area are still paying off the debt from the approved borrowing. Contructructed in a tiered system, there are points in the scheduling where debt is set to be paid off. The amount of $5.5 million being asked of in the voting process will take the place of the loan already in place.
“They structured the debt so that it would have a drop off period,” Tourdot said. “If we pass this referendum, we’ll have a new loan that will take its place. It’s not going to affect taxes at all; it’s going to stay even.”
The administrator added that though it may seem that taxes would go down, it may not necessarily be true. In the case the referendum does not pass, the debt would have to be restructured and tried for again in less than five years.
“The reason being that these roofs aren’t going to stop leaking if the referendum doesn’t pass,” he said.
Upgrades to district technology was also an important factor in the need for aid to keep students current with neighboring schools. Instead of focusing on items or a set piece of software, Tourdot said it was important to take note of needed components to withstand the quickly changing technology industry.
“The problem that happens right now is that technology is going faster than what we can keep up with,” he said. “We want to make sure we have the strong infrastructure we need.”
Fairchild Elementary was a bit of a hot topic during the meeting Wednesday night. With a staggeringly small turnout, there was nonetheless feedback from members of the audience. Tourdot said, despite questioning of the need for aid to go into the school from a community member listening to the administrator speak, the board has held strong to the belief it is worth to hold onto for an increasing enrollment and the possibility of losing at least a dozen students--who bring in nearly $10,000 apiece for their enrollment--for the time being. He also said just because the building is closed, does not mean the district is suddenly devoid of a responsibility to the structure they own, adding that some of the $400,000 going into the building have to be done regardless.
Another sticking point was the high school roof and an uncertain problem regarding the violation of fine print within a warranty. The roof now is currently between 14-15 years old, was the least costly option and was only meant to last 15, Tourdot said.
The superintendent was happy, however, to highlight the current trend in interest rates, which are historically low at 3.25-3.5 percent as compared to the anticipated rate of 4.5 percent they were looking to pay on the loan being brought forward for approval.
Question two varies from its former counterpart and can also be agreed upon or struck down separately.
Hoping to not have to shut down entire programs for students attending in the district, the board has also put to vote the possibility of maintaining with current staff to issue cost in excess of the revenue limits for a period of four years. For operating costs, they cited $330,000 for the 2016-17 school year, $450,000 for the 2017-18 school year and the amount of $425,000 in both the 2018-19 and the 2019-20 year to stop the hemorrhaging of staff and resources for the schools.
In years past they have attempted to keep cutbacks out of the limelight, but have now come to a point where they go forward with public opinion or lose whole programs within curriculum.
Tourdot concluded the meeting with a positive outlook that either one, or both, of the measures will be passed at the polls, encouraging the few in attendance to tell others to contact him with any questions and concerns and cited the biggest problem as a lack of interest. Though he posed the comment he has repeated from the beginning of planning regarding this referendum, one that highlights responsibility of choice falls solely to the popular decision by the community members whose children attend the schools.
“I always tell people, ‘this isn’t my referendum,’” Tourdot said. “‘Your ceilings are going to leak, your carpets are getting more worn, your kids can’t wash their hands.’ It’s not my referendum, it’s this community’s.”
In September 2013, Cooke was hired as the editor of both the Augusta Area Times and the Tri-County News. She can be reached via email@example.com or (715) 597-3313. Follow us on Twitter or check out our Facebook page for more updates!