Simley High School students work to pass referendum, others voice concerns

Heather Edwards
Review staff

Though many of them can’t vote Nov. 5 on the District 199 request for voters to approve bonding funds, district students are doing what they can to promote the cause.

“Students for Better Schools” members have set about their campaign like larger counterparts on the state and national scene. They have a mission statement, officers and an organized door-knocking project. They also launched a Facebook site (search “Students for Better Schools”) and a Twitter feed they’ll use for Election Day get-out-the-vote messages.

“It is way beyond anything I ever would have expected from a bunch of kids,” noted State Representative Joe Atkins, whose daughter is a member of the group.

And that’s not even counting the t-shirts and referendum-themed carved jack-o-lanterns.

What the money would do

On Nov. 5, Inver Grove Heights voters will be asked to authorize the district to borrow money by issuing bonds. A district may use property tax revenue from a bond referendum such as this one to cover building renovations or additions. Bonds are only used for building improvements.

The average homeowner in Inver Grove Heights, with a property valued around $184,000, would pay an increase of $6.42 per month through their property taxes.

If voters approve the referendum, improvements would include adding secure entrances at Simley and Salem Hills, reroofing and replacing windows at all sites and improving a media arts area for online learning. An aging running track would also be repaired. In addition, a new theater at Simley would offer more seating and backstage space for costumes, props, set pieces and dressing rooms. Of the total bond money, 25 percent would be used for the theater and 13 percent would be used to improve athletic areas.

However, some residents asked for their opinions by the Review say they’re not convinced the fixes are necessary.

‘Disturbed’ at amount, uses

Laura Burns said, “I’m disturbed that we ‘need’ $6 million for a performing arts, and approximately $1.8 million for stadium upgrades. That is a huge percentage -- over 30 percent, in fact, of the near $24.75 million -- that benefits a small portion of our students instead of on academics. I also question the need for so much when the economy is bad, and enrollment in public ed is declining.”

Several residents remembered when Inver Grove Elementary and Salem Hills Elementary were closed due to declining enrollment, saying it now seems the remaining schools are overcrowded.

Angie Coffey noted, “In the past they have asked for money and to pass referendums promising not to close a school if it passed; that one passed and they closed (schools) anyhow.”

Now, of the existing schools, “one is now overcrowded and they want money to rearrange the interior of that school to make more classrooms,” Coffey pointed out.

Cathy Hendrickson also expressed concern for overcrowding since South Grove closed. “They built on/updated the remaining elementary schools; now they are over crowded and need more work. I just don’t think they spend their money wisely.”

District viewpoint

However, in rebuttal ISD 199 Communications Coordinator Johnny Germscheid said district literature for referendums leading to the 1999 closing of Inver Grove Elementary never mentioned the school would not be closed.

Germscheid says now is the time to ask voters for a referendum. “Interest rates are historically low,” he said. “This same $24,750,000 will not buy this level of improvement in the future; however, the needs will not be gone. Facilities must be studied and needs addressed on a regular basis in order to remain safe and relevant.”

Voters authorized the sale of $33,000,000 in bonds in the last bond referendum in May 2005 for the Middle School and Hilltop projects. The last payment on these bonds will occur in February 2026.
The district also has $3,945,000 in bonds outstanding from a 1996 bond referendum. The last payment on these bonds will occur in February 2017. The district recently financed a current refunding of the 2012-2017 maturities of the General Obligation School Building Refunding Bonds dated March 27, 2001.

The lower rates will reduce future debt service payments by a total of $424,749. This will reduce property tax levies payable in 2011-2016 by an average of nearly $71,000 per year.

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