One week after half of the Lakeville Area School Board asked for more information before considering pairing a capital levy with an operating levy on the Nov. 5 ballot, district staff worked all week and through the weekend to present all aspects of a proposed $43 million in capital projects during a three-hour work session Monday night.
All board members expressed their satisfaction with the level of detail provided about a capital levy and directed Superintendent Michael Baumann to initiate the review and comment process through the Minnesota Department of Education, which requires that information be received at least 90 days in advance of a proposed capital levy vote to gain the commissioner’s positive, negative or unfavorable review and comment. The deadline to submit was Aug. 7.
At the end of the presentation by multiple staff members, Baumann recommended a $43 million capital levy highlighted by $14 million for improved school security and $22 million in new athletic facilities be paired with a 10-year, annual operating levy of $4.2 million on the fall ballot.
The board will consider formal recommendations for the joint levy questions at its regular Aug. 13 meeting. Passage of the capital levy would be contingent on the operating levy being approved by voters.
Board Chairman Zach Duckworth said this was the additional information he was looking for at the July 29 meeting, when he was one of three members who didn’t support seeking a capital levy.
Board Member Bob Erickson, who also changed in his support, said he was comfortable with the capital levy amount proposed for “these long awaited and well-defined needs.”
He said the capital levy projects would provide expanded needs of associations, senior citizens and preschool ages.
Erickson said he appreciated that combination along with the geographic reach of the projects throughout the district.
One hot-button item seems to have been resolved with Baumann proposing that a dome-ready artificial turf practice field be installed at both Lakeville North and Lakeville South high schools at a total cost of $6 million. There was some displeasure voiced by members of the board and from the community after an earlier proposal had one field being added at Lakeville North with a dome installed by the private investment company Dome Partners LLC.
Erickson said that one field would not have satisfied the city’s need, and indicated that the new plan appears to have everyone on board.
Board Member Judy Keliher said that there is a verbal commitment with Dome Partners LLC to add the dome facilities at no additional charge.
Baumann spoke passionately about the need for improving school safety, calling it his highest priority.
Additions would improve the creation of safe refuge rooms within designated spaces that would have a ballistic lined safety barrier. Ballistic paneling would be placed in strategic areas within the school to provide protection against multiple shots from military and assault rifle rounds. Teachers would have the capability of classrooms in lock down at the push of a button.
“Our focus is on teacher empowerment,” Baumann said. “In speaking with them on this subject, this is what they want. They want to be proactive.”
The improvements would also create secure entrances to schools and provide indoor and outdoor surveillance monitoring that would address safety concerns such as those related to an active shooter, fires, weather-related incidents, air quality and the use of prohibited substances in bathrooms and locker rooms.
Baumann added that these improvements would put Lakeville schools “ahead of the curve” nationally when it comes to school safety.
A proposal to add a gymnasium at McGuire Middle School would come at a cost of $5.2 million. An additional $3 million is needed for drainage correction at the site.
An eight-lane pool with a seating capacity of 400 is being proposed for Century Middle School at a cost of $10.9 million.
Board Member Lynn Gorski pointed out that the addition of the facilities, including the possible domes, would have a great impact on the community as a whole, including the economic impact of people from outside the community coming here for events.
The final arm of the proposed capital levy focuses on a restructuring and augmentation of the IT system, at a cost of $6 million. The work would include upgrading the network and wireless infrastructure, replacing all the cables and updating the operating center.
It was reported that the district’s network and wireless infrastructure is entering the sixth year of its expected maximum seven-year use.
Baumann said that his goal when electing to recommend a capital levy was to limit the impact on the taxpayers and to give the city the “biggest bang for the buck.”
The district would be taking advantage of historically low interest rates, which recently have been below 3 percent for recent public entity bond issues.
For the capital levy, paying off the debt over the course of 13 years is viewed as the “sweet spot.” The owner of the average value home of $370,000 house in the district would initially see a tax increase of approximately $53 a year.
It was pointed out that some of that increase would be offset by a reduction in taxes in other areas.
District staff also reviewed on Monday components of an operating levy that gained board support during its July 29 meeting for a Nov. 5 ballot question.
The operating levy would add an estimated $200 to the property tax bill on the district’s average value home of $370,000.
It would raise $345 per pupil to pay for annual costs of:
• Changes at its middle schools that would add 20 full-time equivalent positions, which would allow it to add electives, improve career pathways and STEM programming, move from a six- to a seven-period day and bring back teacher teaming estimated at $2 million to $2.5 million.
• Improvements to school safety and security infrastructure, mostly related to cybersecurity and security staff in the schools and special events estimated at $300,000.
• Providing mental health services to add four counselors across the district estimated at $400,000.
• Information technology staffing requirements estimated at $600,000.
The district recently received statistically scientific results from Baker Tilly’s telephone survey of 420 randomly-selected residents that determined support for an operating levy that would fund these general categories by raising property taxes equal to $200 on an average value home in 2020.
Dean Spiros can be reached at email@example.com.