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School Board OKs ballot questions

BEMIDJI — The Bemidji School Board on Monday adopted wording of referendum questions for the Nov. 4 ballot that will ask voters to approve building — and funding — a new school for fourth- and fifth-grade students.

Because the district is not only asking voters to approve $40 million to build the new school — and replace the heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems at Bemidji Middle School — but also to approve per pupil levy increases to operate the school, two questions need to be on the November ballot.

Both referendum questions need to pass in order for the new school to be built.

Discussions arose at earlier meetings as to how best to communicate to voters the need for two questions, which should come first, and the specific wording of each.

Earlier drafts of the questions referred to the building as an intermediate school, but officials said they felt it was better to just say that the intended use is for — a school for the district’s fourth- and fifth-graders, which is now reflected on the referendum.

On Monday, the board approved a resolution putting the construction question first, followed by the question on the levy increase that will be used to operate the new school. Question No. 1 asks voters to approve the district issuing bonds not to exceed $39,815,000 to construct the school, as well as for the renovation project at BMS. Question No. 2 proposes a 10-year, $180 per pupil levy increase that would be first levied in 2015 for taxes payable in 2016.

Board members Carol Johnson, John Pugleasa, Jeff Haack, Ann Long Voelkner and Melissa Bahr voted in favor of the resolution approving the questions. Board member Tim Faver was not present at Monday’s meeting.

The $108 per pupil levy would equal a $32.52 increase on a $100,000 home.

Now comes the real work. Several board members said effectively communicating to voters why both question must pass will be key in the coming months. The first step is a “Vote Yes” campaign meeting at 5 p.m. Wednesday at district offices, at 502 Minnesota Ave. NW. Board members encouraged residents to attend the meeting, even if they don’t plan to be on the campaign committee.

“This is a big issue, how we care for our children, and we will be having more children in the future — which is a good problem to have,” said Pugleasa.

Pugleasa said people need to know both the consequences of the “yes” vote, which is a new school, but also the consequences of a “no” vote — no new facility but a continued enrollment increase and a continued strain on existing schools.

Deer Lake listed

In other action, the board:

• Approved an agreement with Lake-N-Woods Realty to list the now-closed Deer Lake Elementary school for sale. The terms of the one-year contract are for the school to be listed at $500,000 with a 5 percent commission. Deer Lake, which is located in Liberty Township, was closed following a vote in May 2001.

• Heard from Superintendent Jim Hess on the district’s goals for the coming year, many of which will continue district goals of student success in the classroom, but also on graduation rate increases and continued efforts to combat bullying in schools. Formal goals will be presented at the next board meeting.

Matt Cory

Matt Cory is the Editor of the Pioneer. Cory grew up in East Grand Forks and is a graduate of the University of North Dakota. He worked as a reporter, copy editor and editor at the Grand Forks Herald from 1993 to 2013, when he joined the Pioneer as Editor.

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