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CL-B to put $37.8 million referendum on November ballots

CASS LAKE -- About a week after they agreed to draft a stripped-down facilities plan, Cass Lake-Bena Schools leaders met again to put a different plan on ballots this November.

At an Aug. 3 special meeting, the School Board agreed to ask voters to approve a $37.8 million bonding referendum this fall, pending state approval. If voters agree, the district would use that money to build a new school for grades 3-5 and renovate and expand some of the district’s existing buildings and classroom spaces.

At a special meeting July 26, board members voted 4-1 to draft a review and comment to the Minnesota Department of Education for a $16.2 million plan that would upgrade the district’s current facilities, but their more recent vote would ask residents to consider the larger-scale option.

District staff have reported a bevy of space and equipment issues in their existing buildings, and School Board Chair Rick Haaland characterized the smaller option as a “band-aid” that would put them in the same position in a few years.

The Pioneer incorrectly reported in July the board’s vote then would put the smaller plan in front of voters this fall. Board members at the July meeting amended their agenda from “approve and submit review and comment to the Minnesota Department of Education for referendum plan” to “draft review and comment to the Minnesota Department of Education.”

Staff at the education department said their review and comment process is separate from the one that would put a referendum question on ballots, which is overseen by the Minnesota Secretary of State.

“School boards can change their minds,” said Chris Kubesh, an education finance specialist at the education department. Kubesh said CL-B’s referendum proposal had not yet crossed his desk. The education department looks at a relatively narrow set of criteria when reviewing a referendum, staff there said, and Kubesh added that they would only give an unfavorable opinion if a district had broader enrollment or financial issues.

The measure approved at the Aug. 3 meeting would put the $37.8 million question to voters on Tuesday, Nov. 7, according to meeting documents, and new state laws dictate the board will need to conduct a public hearing after they’ve heard back from the department of education.

Board members Cindy Kingbird, Beth Norenberg, Jennie Reyes, and chair Haaland voted in favor of the measure. Matt Erickson, an outspoken critic of the facilities plans and referenda, voted against it. Board members Millie Baird and Dave Yates were not present at the Aug. 3 meeting.

If voters approve the referendum, it would increase taxes on a $100,000 home by $167 in fiscal year 2018, according to estimates supplied at the Aug. 3 meeting, and a “seasonal recreational residential” property valued at $150,000 would pay an estimated $350 more that year.

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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