A divided district: Opponents of G-E referendum worry about tax impact, if the school will be around 25 years

Published 9:53 pm Friday, July 28, 2023

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Editor’s Note: This is the second of two stories related to the upcoming bond referendum for Glenville-Emmons School.

Opponents of the bond referendum worry about the fiscal impact on families a new school building would have, and said given the school’s declining enrollment, even with a new building there would still be a possibility the district could consolidate and that taxpayers would still be paying for something even if it wasn’t in use.

Verlys Huntley, who lives outside Emmons, is worried about taxpayers and the increase in tax rates for residents.

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“Quite a few of these older people live on fixed incomes, I’m concerned for young families — I see quite a few of these,” she said.

Through her work at the Albert Lea Farmers Market, she also saw people coming with Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children vouchers who struggled to find money to feed their families while also providing other basic necessities. And she felt any tax increase might be something these families could not handle.

Debbie Peterson, another Emmons resident and opponent of the bond referendum, said some of these people wouldn’t be able to afford the tax increases.

“We’re not talking $50 to $60, we’re talking hundreds of dollars,” she said. “I know there’s been a couple people that have expressed their concern that if this new school is built, how are they going to be able to afford it,” she said.

Huntley agreed.

“I think it was ill-conceived from the very beginning,” Huntley said. “I don’t think the Emmons people really knew what was going on when this whole thing started.”

She also felt people were unrealistic to believe a district the size of Glenville-Emmons could afford a building estimated to be 81,000 square feet, something she pointed out was “considerably bigger” than what the Minnesota Department of Education recommended, especially in the midst of declining enrollment.

She admitted there were problems at the current buildings, especially roofing issues, but she felt the roof wasn’t taken care of properly.

“Anyone knows that if you have water leakage from a roof, you probably have interior damage,” she said. “I don’t understand why this wasn’t taken care of.”

She also noted the problem could have been addressed earlier.

“Had they maybe done the maintenance on their building they may not have needed to think about building a new building,” she said.

Adding to the frustration, Lynne Langfald, a resident of Emmons, said she never received a survey regarding the potential fate of the current school buildings if the bond referendum passed. Langfald had children who attended Emmons Middle School before it closed, and Peterson’s oldest son was in the last class to graduate from Emmons. That class had 13 students.

“Naturally the people that have children in school there want to see the school continue,” Huntley said. “I understand this, but at a certain point it gets where it isn’t financially a viable option, especially with declining enrollment.”

Instead, Peterson suggested the school follow what Emmons did in 1989: Look for a new partner in what Huntley described as “pairing-and-sharing.” And that partner should be decided upon by each family.

Langfald’s biggest concern was what they would be paying.

According to a tax comparison prepared by the Freeborn County Assessor’s Office in May, a homestead (including a home, garage and one acre of land) valued at $200,000 would pay $1,278 in school taxes if the referendum passed. By contrast, the same house, garage and acre of land pays a current tax of $676.

For a $100,000 homestead including a home, garage and one acre of land, the current rate is $330 and would increase to $570 if the referendum passes. And that wasn’t including how much farmers would be taxed.

“The farmers are going to get taxed on their ag,” Peterson said. “The state is going to pick up some of it, but the operating levy that’s currently in place is for general operations of the school.

“The farmers, the ag land is not taxed, just their house, garage and one acre. But now everything will be taxed.”

Huntley was also worried about the 25-year bond issue, noting taxpayers would be liable for it regardless of what happened to the school.

“A lot of things can change in 25 years,” she said. “It has changed in the last 25 years.

“Who knows how much more enrollment will drop, what will happen. More people are home-schooling, there’s so many things.”

Peterson agreed.

“Even the state Department of Education says we’re building a building too big for the number of students that we have, square footage per student,” she said. “They recommend 200 a square foot, and we’re building one [378] a square foot per child.”

Currently, 319 children live in the district, with 155 students within the district open-enrolled in another district. Seventy-nine students are open-enrolled within the district, 78 from Albert Lea and one from Lyle.

“Parents are interested in the best education for their kids, and when you have the option of open-enrollment you have that option,” Huntley said. “They’re choosing what they feel is the best education for their children, and opportunities.”

Peterson added the “No” vote wasn’t to close the school — it’s simply to not build a new building.

She said Glenville-Emmons has a current operating levy of $2,062 per pupil unit. The next closest school in the area was Lyle, with $974 per pupil unit.

“A building doesn’t educate the children,” Langfald said. “With the teacher shortages, I still believe education’s the most important, and if I had kids in school I’d be looking at what they offer.”

A vote on the referendum will be held from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Aug. 8 at both Glenville City Hall (221 W. Main St. in Glenville) and Emmons City Hall (219 Main St. in Emmons). Those eligible to vote in Glenville include residents of Glenville, Myrtle, Freeman Township, Albert Lea Township (Precinct 1), Hayward Township, Oakland Township and London Township. Those eligible to vote in Emmons include residents of Emmons, Nunda Township, Mansfield Township and Pickerel Lake Township.
Early, absentee in-person voting is available from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Aug. 5 at the Freeborn County Auditor’s Office. Absentee voting is open 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday through Aug. 7 at the Freeborn County Auditor-Treasurer’s Office. The office is at 411 S. Broadway in Albert Lea.

And that was Huntley’s biggest message, regardless of what side of the issue a person stood on.

“An issue this big, it would be nice to see 100% of the people in the district involved,” she said. “I think it’s a very important issue. It will impact the voters and the taxpayers in the district for 25 years if it’s passed. And I’m afraid the school won’t be able to operate that long.”