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Cass Lake-Bena unveils revised school referendum option

CASS LAKE -- As the state-imposed deadline for their proposed facilities referendum approaches, Cass Lake-Bena leaders unveiled on Thursday a revised plan to replace the school district’s elementary building.

District staff, School Board members and a team of consultants have been shopping a pair of ideas to area residents that would repair or replace parts of the district’s buildings and alleviate space concerns in its younger grades. “Option A” would bond for about $24 million to renovate and expand Cass Lake-Bena Elementary School. The second, now-revised plan would bond for about $37 million to build a new elementary building for grades 3-5 near the district’s existing middle and high schools and repurpose its existing elementary building for grades K-2. District leaders shaved a net $500,000 off the cost of the latter plan -- now dubbed “Option B2” to differentiate it from the original “Option B” -- by keeping some kindergarten classrooms where they are but adding some square footage to the proposed new building.

This week’s meeting was the last in a months-long series of community engagement events. District staff and consultants circulated surveys at each event to gauge residents’ appetite for either multi-million dollar referendum, and the School Board is expected to hear the final set of survey results at a special meeting next week. After that, board members plan to choose one of the two options and put it on November ballots.

Survey responses from earlier meetings indicated strong support for the more expensive option to replace the elementary school, but a relatively small number of people filled the surveys out, which means their results might not be reliable.

Option A would tack on another $95 per year in property taxes for a home valued at $100,000, according to documents supplied at Thursday’s meeting. Option B2 would increase the same house’s taxes by $167, annually -- about $6 less than the estimated increase under the old Option B.

School district leaders have until Aug. 9 to submit a referendum question to the Minnesota Department of Education for approval.

Joe Bowen

Joe Bowen covers education (mostly K-12) and American Indian affairs for the Bemidji Pioneer.

He's from Minneapolis, earned a degree from the College of St. Benedict - St. John's University in 2009, and worked at the Perham Focus near Detroit Lakes and Sun Newspapers in suburban Minneapolis before heading to the Pioneer.

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