District 194 proposes funds dedicated for new middle school teachers, safety, security, athletic spaces

Voters in the Lakeville Area School District will determine if the district can provide new learning opportunities, upgrade safety and security and build new athletic spaces through the proposed operating levy and bond referendum questions on the Nov. 5 ballot.

Since the School Board decided in August to put the measures to voters, district officials and community supporters have been reaching out to potential voters with information about the questions.

The district has held three hour-long information sessions, with the last to be held Oct. 28 in the Lakeville South High School auditorium. A recording of the Sept. 16 community meeting is available on isd194.org/ourfuture.

During the sessions, Superintendent Michael Baumann and Assistant Superintendent Emily McDonald have explained the state of the district financially and academically.

“As we look to the future, the balance is between what we can financially afford and what are the opportunities,” Baumann said at the Sept. 16 meeting. “We took some signficant cuts in this district back in 2008, 2009 and 10. In all candor, it’s been difficult to raise the opportunities along the way because the economy hadn’t recovered as significantly as it is today in a way to make it possible.”

The last time District 194 approved an operating levy was in 2017 when it renewed an exisiting levy from 2007 – one year before the Great Recession in 2008 when the district cut $10 million from its budget.

The 2017 levy was able to maintain programs with 91 percent of the estimated $8 million each year going to support classroom activities.

Baumann said in 2017 without the levy, the district would likely have to reduce teaching staff. That levy passed with 74 percent yes votes.

When asked what would happen if the 2019 questions were to fail, Baumann said the district would likely have to try another referendum opportunity or “we would have to cut the budget. I don’t know how we would do that. It would be pretty tough overall.”

The district has said that data trends indicate that it will face budget shortfalls in years ahead as basic education revenue and state aid have not kept up with inflation.

Currently there is about a $600 per pupil gap between the state general education formula and what it would be if it kept pace with the consumer price index. With 11,473 students in the district, that’s a nearly $7 million gap.

District 194 officials have also said that state and federal aid underfund mandated special education services.

The 2019 operating levy would add 25 teachers at the distict’s three middle schools to expand course offerings, including Spanish and French and those related to science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).

“We know from best practice and developmentally, (middle school students) have a try new things,” McDonald said. “They are trying to find out who they are and what they want to be. We feel that these are an essential pieces.”

District officials have said it has neglected middle school staffing in the past several years, as it has dealt with student population increases in the elementary level and tried to keep class sizes lower in the high schools.

McDonald said this year the district had to add eight elementary school teachers based on the student population demand. She said such an increase was unheard of in recent years.

Baumann said the community is one of the fastest growing in the state and “we don’t believe that is going to slow down anytime soon.”

“We think Lakeville is a destination because of our school system,” Baumann said.

He said that benefits the community by bolstering the local economy and workforce.

Safety and security changes would include increased staffing, door sensors, automatic lockdown technology, creating classroom safe zones and installing detectors to indicate the presence of vaping, especially in bathrooms.

As a U.S. Army veteran, Baumann said he knows having worked at the Deaprtment of Defense that even the best cybersecurity can be compromised, but the district has an obligation to do its best to protect student data.

The funds from the referedum would allow the district to bolster its cybersecurity, help it recover from a natural disaster and create redundancy in its network to prevent outages.

Athletic spaces include gym, pool and outdoor turf that would provide for physical education, sports practices and games, and community use for a variety of activities.

Baumann said the bond referendum items have long been in development.

They emerged as priorities in 2015 and 2017 from the Long Term Maintenance Facility Task Force.

“This is an effort to try to address those for our school distirct,” Baumann said.

He said having a second pool in the district would settle a question the district has had for 20 years.

The operating levy would also provide increased staffing to deal with the social and emotional needs of the students.

Four counselors would be added to give each elementary school its own counselor. Also added would be a school resource officer and a districtwide school psychologist.

“I’ll speak for the administration, as leaders we have an obligation, we are walking this forward to the community for a need that is only going to grow and not shrink. We at least have to present this to you.”

Levy, bond items

The district is proposing a 10-year, $4.27 million annual operating levy and a $42.9 million bond that would be paid back over 13 years.

In order for both to be approved, they would need to gain more than 50 percent of voter support after the Nov. 5 election.

If the operating levy were to fail, the bond referendum would also fail even if it were to receive an over 50 percent “yes” vote. This means the bond referendum is contingent on the operating levy passing.

For the district’s average valued home of $370,000, the operating levy and bond referendum are estimated to raise property taxes by $228. If both measures are approved, property taxes would increase on a $250,000 and a $600,000 residential property by $135 and $324, respectively.

Components of the operating levy are:

• Changes at its middle schools that would add 25 full-time equivalent positions, which would allow the district to add electives, such as world languages and coding; improve career pathways and STEM programming; move from a six- to a seven-period class day, and bring back teacher teaming estimated at $2 million to $2.5 million.

• Additional resources to meet elementary enrollment needs estimated at $360,000.

• Information technology staffing to maintain staff and student devices, technology systems and network infrastructure estimated at $600,000.

• Providing mental health services to add four counselors across the district estimated at $400,000 and funding to implement social-emotional learning districtwide estimated at $200,000.

• Improvements to school safety including an additional school resource officer to support the middle schools and districtwide, along with a school psychologist to facilitate threat assessments and respond to potential threats, estimated at $210,000.

Components of the capital levy are:

• $14.4 million for school safety that would allow for IT cybersecurity upgrades, create secure entrances to schools, install safe refuge rooms within designated spaces that would have a ballistic lined safety barrier, 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.

• $10.9 million for an eight-lane curriculum/competition pool with diving well for swimming lessons and use by residents and swim teams with a seating capacity of 400 at Century Middle School.

• $6.2 million for a restructuring and augmentation of the IT system. The work would include upgrading the network and wireless infrastructure, replacing all the cables and updating the operating center.

• $6 million for two turf fields at Lakeville North and Lakeville South high schools for more athletics, activities and community use.

• $5.2 million for a gymnasium with two courts for student and community use at McGuire Middle School.

Absentee voting began Sept. 20. Lakeville Area Schools residents can vote in person at Lakeville City Hall during regular business hours.

More information about the proposals is at https://isd194.org/ourfuture.

Tad Johnson can be reached at tad.johnson@ecm-inc.com.

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