Guest column: Building issues didn’t happen overnight

Published 8:45 pm Friday, July 28, 2023

Guest column by Verlys Huntley

The issue of building a new school is challenging, controversial and literally taxing in any school district. Many factors must be considered when determining if it is feasible to build a new school. Enrollment, population, economy, building costs, interest rates and taxpayer base are a few. Emotions are not.

Verlys Huntley

Proponents of the G-E bond referendum have appealed to the public’s emotions with pictures of cans and buckets catching water dripping from the ceilings, an old boiler, standing water on the roof and other maintenance issues inside the building.

Email newsletter signup

But those issues didn’t happen overnight — they happened over years.

This raises the questions of why the buildings were allowed to get to this point and why something wasn’t done sooner?

In 2016 a thorough assessment of buildings and educational environments was completed that identified these issues. The school board considered options to address these issues but no work was completed at that time.

Meanwhile, the Long Term Facility Maintenance Fund continued to grow, and as of Nov. 22, 2022, had a balance of $319,562.

Why weren’t these funds being used to address some of the problems? They can be used for maintaining roofs, repairing building structures, indoor air quality and safety. How many students were exposed to these problems in the seven years since they were identified but nothing was being done about them?

There was also a balance of $196,449 in Operating Capital, and $44,033 in the Safe Schools Levy — bringing the total of funds available to half a million dollars. Why wasn’t the school board using this money to address some of the issues that proponents for the bond referendum are claiming to be the reasons for a new school?

Did the school board intentionally let things go so there would be no other option than to build a new school?

There are other questions that cast distrust and misgivings on the proposed referendum as well.

Who received the community-wide survey about which options to consider? I haven’t found anyone who received a survey. Perhaps that was only sent to parents of students in the building, just like other early information regarding the referendum was.

Why is the proposed building plan allowing 378 square feet per student — 89% larger than the Minnesota Department of Education’s building space guidelines of 200 square feet per student?

The school board is asking taxpayers to support a project that exceeds what is needed to educate the number of students attending G-E, when future enrollment is not expected to materially increase (per the review and comments from the Office of the Commissioner of Education).

Enrollment, specifically the issue of declining enrollment, is a major reason many people are opposed to the bond referendum.

Between 2013 and 2022 the enrollment at Glenville-Emmons declined by 109 students.

Of the 319 students who reside in the G-E school district, 155 open-enrolled out of the district in 2022-23.

With the addition of some open-enrolled students, the enrollment at G-E was 213 last year.

This issue is not unique to the G-E school district. Enrollment is declining throughout Freeborn County — and so is the population — including the population in Glenville and Emmons.

So where are the students going to come from to keep the Glenville-Emmons School open for the next 25 years?

If the bond referendum passes, every homeowner in the school district will see an increase in their property taxes for their house, garage and one acre. This tax increase will be in addition to the operating referendum currently in place. Look at your property tax statement and see what your current Voter Approved Levies amount is. It will be significantly higher if the referendum passes.

Property taxes on a house valued at $200,000 will increase from the current amount of $676 to $1,278 per year.

Ag homestead landowners will see an increase of $3/acre to $10/acre depending on the value of their land. Someone who owns 1,000 acres of land valued at $7,000/acre will be taxed $4,820 — an increase of $3,500 per year from the current tax. When offset by the Ag2School tax credit, they will pay $2,747.40 per year — an increase of $1,427.40. And ag non-homestead landowners will see increases twice that amount.

The increased tax burden to all taxpayers in the Glenville-Emmons school district, especially those with low, fixed or single incomes, is overwhelming — and not fiscally responsible. And it will continue for 25 years — whether or not the school is in operation.

Taxpayers need to keep in mind that these tax increases are in addition to all the other city, township, county and school taxes they are already paying!

People with questions about what this bond referendum will do to their property taxes should call the Freeborn County Auditor at 377-5121 before Aug. 8.

Opposition to the referendum is not a vote against the students at Glenville-Emmons. We all agree that education is important and want the best for the kids. But proponents are asking too much of taxpayers during a time of inflation and uncertainty.

Also, this is not a way to get even with Glenville for closing the Emmons School 20 years ago. That is water under the bridge.

It is a matter of financial survival.

Perhaps one of the other options should have been considered — this one is just too costly.

Vote NO on Aug. 8.

Verlys Huntley is a former Emmons school board member and resident of rural Emmons. She owns and operates Huntley Gardens and has helped run the Farmer’s Market in Albert Lea for over 30 years.