A divided district: Referendum proponents say G-E district has to focus on issues at hand, hopeful for growth

Published 10:00 pm Friday, July 28, 2023

The upcoming Glenville-Emmons bond referendum on Aug. 8 is generating much discussion on both sides of the issue.

The referendum asks voters to authorize the sale of general obligation building bonds not to exceed $37.42 million “for acquisition and betterment of school sites and facilities including, but not limited to, the construction of a new PK-12 school.”

The current high school was built almost 70 years ago, while the elementary building is over 50 years old, and school administration says the new building is needed because the current buildings were run down, citing needs for model repairs, including major systems.

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Supporters of the referendum believe no matter how well-maintained the school building was, at some point age would have eventually caught up to it anyway and that a new building would be needed.

Susie Miller lives between Glenville and Emmons and supports the bond referendum.

“I’m very passionate about the school,” she said. “… my daughter had such a great experience at the school.”

Miller was also involved at the school throughout the time her daughter graduated, serving on the school board for eight years, and hoped to see her grandchildren graduate from the district.

“There’s been a lot of thought and planning put into this, so I feel confident the people that are making the decisions and doing the research, I feel confident in what they’re proposing,” she said.

Miller admitted a “Yes” vote would result in higher taxes, but said higher taxes was something people dealt with at all different levels and didn’t see an issue with it.

“I’m willing to pay a little extra to continue to have our communities thrive and retain our school district,” she said. “I think it’s important, I think, that every kid learns and adapts differently, and I think it’s important to try to retain these small schools.”

Sandra Frederickson, another Glenville resident, also supported the referendum.

“Someone paid for my education, someone paid for my children’s and someone paid for my grandchildren’s,” she said. “There’s nothing greater than to educate our children — it doesn’t matter what area you come from whether it be from Glenville or whether it be from Emmons.”

Miller also believed paying more in taxes would keep the communities thriving, especially with a small school providing more opportunities.

“There’s a misconception that people think that we won’t be paying if we were absorbed by a different district, that we wouldn’t be paying those [school] taxes that are high,” she said. “No matter what, you’re always going to be paying for a school. Why not continue to pay for a school and keep a small school thriving and keep our communities thriving and take care of the families that are here and have been here generation after generation and want to come and start new families in this district?”

Frederickson acknowledged no one wanted to see higher taxes, but noted if a new school was built it wouldn’t cost what it would cost to enroll students in Albert Lea schools, and believed the state wouldn’t allow all current students to enroll into Iowa.

Miller felt there was a reason people moved to the area: To raise a family in a small, rural area with a small school that allowed parents and children more opportunities to participate and be involved in different programs, something that wasn’t necessarily available to everyone in a larger district.

As for the argument that the district was losing students anyway and that consolidation would happen down the road no matter what, she argued that was an assumption and that something needed to happen. And she believed a new facility would attract new people.

“I’ve talked to people outside of our district that said ‘If Glenville got a new school I’d love to send my kid to that school and get them into that school district,’” Miller said, referring to parents from Albert Lea.

Frederickson felt the district already did enough consolidation, and said some people who were open-enrolled elsewhere simply didn’t accept the consolidation between Glenville and Emmons over 30 years ago.

“I firmly believe it could be a very solid district if people would work together,” she said. “The kids get along, it’s the parents that don’t.

“If the bitterness continues as is, [people who didn’t believe in consolidation] will still continue to take their kids out, whether it be Iowa, Alden or Albert Lea.”

But she did admit Glenville-Emmons hadn’t invested major money in maintaining a system of infrastructure, but she felt they didn’t because they didn’t have the money for investment.

“You have to stick major dollars in a system every so many years, but in order to do that you need to maintain numbers,” she said.

Miller believed the district did the best it could to maintain the buildings it had, and argued the responsible thing was not to put a band-aid on the problem. She also pointed out some of the issues already at the buildings, including the secondary school roof, older boilers and asbestos issues, describing the problems as issues that had to be addressed. And with a failing structure, students and families wouldn’t want to attend the district or move to the area.

At the same time, Federickson said a new building wouldn’t completely solve the problem of students leaving, but it would help. In her opinion, it would also help attract staff who would want to stay.

“The responsible thing is to build a brand-new building that’s efficient … and will be able to give these kids a safe space,” Miller said.

Building a new facility instead of maintaining what’s already in place also made sense.

“The millions of dollars that would have to be put into the school, … We can get a brand-new building where we can have our schools combined together,” Miller said. “Again, another safe space for the kids.”

Frederickson said while there were certain structures at the secondary school that could be updated, she asked why someone would want to put all that money into such an old structure.

She also felt if the referendum didn’t pass, costs would only get higher to build a new building in the future.

Worrying about the present, not what happened or what could happen, was also important to Miller.

Frederickson served on the committee that recommended a new building for the district, and believed the district was losing money because of student departures to neighboring school districts.

“How can you maintain a system, basic upkeep, if you’ve got all the money leaving the system,” she said. “That’s my frustration.”

Regarding a potential building being too big for the number of students, Miller said she left it up to the experts to determine how big the building should be. She also wasn’t worried about the district’s declining enrollment, and said there wasn’t a district that couldn’t think about the possibility of smaller student numbers. But she argued it was more important to look at the current situation.

Frederickson thought having a larger building was looking toward the future.

“I’m not going to say it’s going to happen, but what if 50 kids come back,” she said.

Miller also said she thought a new building would provide better security, especially in today’s world, and thought information presented by the district wasn’t false.

“There’s consultants preparing this information, it’s not random people that are just passionately involved in this,” she said. “The school has hired professionals to put these numbers together for the district.”

Miller’s husband, daughter and in-laws all graduated from Glenville-Emmons.

“She got a great education, she had so many opportunities, I’m just really passionate about it,” she said, noting how invested parents and students were in a district she described as “a family.”

Frederickson’s oldest son graduated from Glenville, while her younger son graduated after Glenville consolidated with Emmons.


District responds to referendum concerns

In an email, Glenville-Emmons Schools said: “Every effort was made by the Glenville-Emmons administration and school board through multiple platforms — mail, newspaper, community meetings, referendum website, asocial media and email — to ensure we were getting the facts and correct information into the hands of all people or persons who have a vested interest with this project. This current project was started during fall of 2021 in which the school district sent a letter to each district voter asking for volunteers to become part of a community-driven taskforce to determine what the recommendation to the board would be. This task force met over the course of 14 months touring schools, studying enrollment and demographic information, developed a community-wide survey, reviewed engineering assessments on our current facilities. This project has been discussed regularly in the school board meetings over the past several years.

“Since 2015, when [Long-Term Facilities Maintenance] was introduced by [the Minnesota Department of Education], we have been trying to build up the LTFM fund balance enough to allow us to have money for short-term fixes on larger ticket items as those needs would arise. So, we are spending LTFM dollars each year on projects that fit within the budget we have been receiving the dollars for. Items such as boiler repairs and asbestos abatement are examples of some projects we have used LTFM dollars for recently. Unfortunately, we are at a turning point where major systems such as our roofs, HVAC, plumbing, etc. are needing to be replaced and are too big of a cost per item to be covered by LTFM dollars we receive.

“To hire an architect firm to create the official plan or layout of our school campus costs thousands and thousands of dollars. Renderings have been created to show what our campus may look like. The square footage model of our project is based on MDE’s recommendations per student for classroom space and each type of additional spaces needed such as [career technical education], cafeteria, office, music, gymnasium, locker rooms, restrooms, etc. A misconception may be that we are building for 400 students in which we are not. We are building a building based on the industry and educational requirement recommendations. The overall square footage of the new building will not be much different than what we have today.”