Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Wayzata school board candidates: bond referendum

Three seats on the Wayzata School Board are up for election next Tuesday, November 5. Earlier this month, I sent three questions to the nine candidates. Here, in alphabetical order by candidate name, are the responses I received to the first question. As I advised the candidates, I made some minor edits for length and journalistic style.

Question 1: The Wayzata School Board is considering approval of a February referendum to provide bonding (debt) for a new elementary school, additions to the high school, and other infrastructure improvements. If the school board approves the referendum, will you be supportive of it? Why or why not?

Update: The same week that I emailed the questionnaire to the candidates, the Wayzata School Board passed a referendum to ask the voters on February 25, 2014 to approve a $109.65 million dollar bond (debt).

Derek Diesen

I support some of the referendum, for example I believe we need a new elementary school immediately. Elementary schools are the backbone of our community. It’s what brings a neighborhood together. Kids need to attend the school that’s in their own neighborhood. It also takes pressure off transportation and start times.

However, the way the referendum is written, I would vote no. I am against the proposed high school addition. It is already mega-sized and there are better ways to meet the needs of such a large, diverse population of students. Having two schools is an opportunity for Wayzata. Two schools wouldn’t need to compete, they could complement each other. I think we can be fair without being the same.

We have what I refer to as first-class problems. We have a growing population, a highly sought after district and a community that wants what’s best for their kids. My biggest concern is that not all voices are heard when a district gets so large. I feel a responsibility to the voices of kids in special education, junior varsity sports and industrial arts classes.

Sarah Johansen

The school board unanimously approved the referendum on Monday, October 14th and I fully support their decision. In the face of unprecedented growth in our District, we must ensure that we have the resources to meet our growing numbers. The approved plan is the most fiscally responsible decision to address our current and future needs.

David Lloyd

The difficult parts of the referendum are the amount to be borrowed of approximately $109 million and the resulting size of the high school to educate approximately 3900 students. I understand the administration and the committees they appointed feel they have worked hard to analyze and recommend this referendum. There are good people on both sides of this debate. I've enjoyed meeting and communicating with everybody I've encountered in this campaign.

Let's discuss the amount first. The amount of borrowing and the length of time of approximately twenty years in paying back this debt is a concern. We have a culture in our country that we should borrow as long as possible to keep the payment as low as possible. Of course, the longer the term of borrowing, the higher the interest cost. My sense is we have the wealth in the District to shorten the length of time to pay back this debt and give us cash flow options further down the road if we need funds for some other project.

While I understand and admire the confidence of the administration and Board to increase the high school to 3900 students and maintain quality, this will still be a considerable task. Common sense tells me that this size of school is not ideal to take on the achievement gap. Many students have parents with significant ability to fund outside coaching, mentoring, tutoring, etc. Children caught in the achievement gap need to secure opportunity in the existing school structure. 700 more students won't be easy to manage in actually conquering the achievement gap. Approximately 15% of our students have already been identified as qualifying for meal assistance. I'm concerned more students will have difficulties in a school of this size.

I have concern more funds in the referendum are earmarked for physical education and a performing arts center than will be used to create classroom space for the high school. I have not gained any sense from listening to the administration, Board or committee members that educational needs such as STEM or options for students not headed to college have been considered in this process. The ECM Editorial Board just wrote a piece discussing that since college has become so expensive many should embrace non-four year post secondary programs. It is sad affordability outweighs ability in pursuing post secondary education. But, the reality is that high schools long term will need to address this issue. I don't sense the referendum considers this issue.

The growth in the District is an opportunity to think as far ahead as the term of the bonds we may be issuing. There is time before the vote in February to bring the District together on these issues. I would work hard towards addressing these issues if I were elected to the Board. I need to see that occur in order to support the referendum.

Chris McCullough

I intend to vote “yes” on the funding question on February 25, 2014. We have outgrown our existing facilities and the growth trends are not projected to slow down anytime soon. We cannot continue to try to educate our students (and expect our teachers and staff to do the same) in crowded classrooms.

Having served on the Citizens Task Force on Facilities, I personally reviewed the data and engaged in hours of detailed discussions (sometimes debates) with other members of the Task Force in an effort to understand and scrutinize the data, propose and analyze various options, and — ultimately — reach consensus on our recommendation to the School Board. I recognized as a member of the Task Force, and plainly acknowledge, that our recommendations may not be perfect. After all, all models and projections require assumptions. That said, we reached consensus on our recommendation based on the best available data and analysis. And I stand by that recommendation and will vote “yes” on February 25.

Bill Pritchard

While the Wayzata School District is fortunate to be experiencing a steady growing student population, which does contribute to the sound fiscal state of the district, it also creates a challenge when managing to balance the student population within its facilities.

The District in all likelihood not if, but, when, needs to embark on its largest capital improvement project in recent history. With over twenty years in the construction industry and having personally been involved with several large residential capital improvement projects, it is important that the District be prepared and represented in this area. As a business and financial professional, I understand the budgeting processes, the operating complexities of large organizations. I will work hard to diligently ensure the processes are openly communicated and strive to seek cost effective solutions and to enable all stakeholders to have a voice.

I support the referendum for the following reasons:
  • Most of our schools are at capacity
  • The current Wayzata High school will grow by over 900 students in the next 10 years
  • The State’s recent decision to fund all day Kindergartner will create an addition need for over 14-16 classrooms
  • More students are moving into the District
  • More housing, in the past 4 years 1200 new homes in the District and in the next 4 years an estimate 1600 homes to be built

Ted Victor

I fully support the Board’s decision. The original bond issue to have one high school was approved and passed by voters and a previous school board. The Minnesota Department of Education will only approve a school to take care of the current need, resulting in a small high school. We are unable to make equal size schools because that would create unused capacity in the current high school by moving students to the new school.

Additionally, two schools open a myriad of problems that will affect the community for years to come; open enrollment issues between the schools, community division, boundary issues for what elementary and middle schools feed which high school and the ultimate decision of is each school being treated equally and fairly.

The infrastructure improvements are necessary to correct current safety issues. Controlling the access of the public to the schools is necessary for the safety of the students and the staff. Some schools currently have this control and other do not. It needs to be consistent throughout the District schools.

The addition of an elementary school in the northern part of the District must be done for two reasons. First, with the passing and funding of all day kindergarten by the legislature, additional space is needed just to meet the current and incoming kindergarten population. Secondly, this will allow elementary students in the northern part of the district to attend school closer to home. This will decrease the need to bus students past closer elementary schools to other elementary schools that may have capacity for them. This will also create new boundary issues as new boundaries for each elementary school will need to be established.

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