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Community meeting set on Cass Lake-Bena school facilities

CASS LAKE—Cass Lake-Bena residents will have one more chance to talk with school district leaders about their facilities plans there.

A final community input meeting is scheduled Thursday, July 13, before district staff settle on a final recommendation to alleviate overcrowding in their younger grades and other facilities issues.

They've been shopping two options to district residents: "Option A" would spend $24 million to add new classrooms and a gym to the existing building on U.S. Highway 2. "Option B" would spend $38 million to build a brand-new school for grades 3-5 on the district's middle and high school campus. Both plans would renovate and upgrade portions of the middle and high schools, and the school district would need voter approval before it could issue the bonds necessary for either.

The mid-July meeting is the last in a series. A meeting held several weeks ago produced generally positive opinions about the two plans, and the majority of survey responses there indicated strong support for building the brand new elementary building. But a second input meeting last week grew heated, at times, as district staff answered some pointed questions about the project and the hefty bonds that would pay for it.

In one exchange, School Board Member Matt Erickson wondered aloud why the district had allocated money for a new bus garage that, he felt, could be used to offset the multi-million dollar proposed referendum.

A nearby resort owner said he'd have a difficult time paying additional taxes to build a new school when he wouldn't see a benefit.

"What would the long-range benefits of that be?" Superintendent Rochelle Johnson answered. "Educated citizens"

Johnson and other board members told Erickson and other meeting attendees that the district's long-term facilities plan had been years in the making and that tax impacts and other financial considerations had been carefully weighed.

The school district's tax base is relatively small because large chunks of it sit on federal land. A consultant estimated that "Plan A" would increase property taxes there $95 for a residential homestead valued at $100,000; "Plan B" would increase the same home's taxes by $173. Those figures would be $310 and $568, respectively, for a home valued at $250,000, and $560 and $1,026 for a similarly valued commercial or industrial property.

If you go:

What: Community input meeting

When: 6 p.m. Thursday, July 13

Where: Cass Lake American Legion Auxiliary Building, 217 2nd St. SE, Cass Lake, MN 56633

Info: clbs.k12.mn.us

Joe Bowen

Joe Bowen covers education and health for the Bemidji Pioneer.

He is a Minneapolis native and a 2009 graduate of St. John's University. Before moving to Bemidji, Bowen covered education, local politics, crime, and everything in between for the Perham Focus in Perham, Minnesota, and Sun Newspapers in suburban Minneapolis.

(218) 333-9798
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