Willmar board takes step back on building plans, may go ahead with operating levy

WILLMAR -- It appears that a referendum on a school construction bond issue could be at least a year away while an operating levy vote could take place this fall.

WILLMAR -- It appears that a referendum on a school construction bond issue could be at least a year away while an operating levy vote could take place this fall.

Willmar School Board members had at one time planned to make decisions about a future building proposal at their Monday meeting.

Instead, they decided to spend more time explaining the building options to the public before choosing a building site or narrowing the scope of the building plan.

However, the need for additional operating revenue in the face of limited state funding is something that needs to be addressed sooner, said Superintendent Kathy Leedom.

The district needs more revenue to maintain its educational programs and its general fund reserve, Leedom said. A 1 percent increase in state revenue next year will not be enough to maintain district programs at their current levels.


The board has ordered the administration to recommend budget cuts for the 2008-09 school year. Some of those cuts are likely to be staff layoffs related to declining enrollment. Other decisions could increase class sizes or eliminate programs.

The district currently receives $498 per pupil unit in an operating levy approved five years ago. The statewide average is $760 per pupil. The board has not set an amount for a possible operating levy. It could wait until early September whether to seek a levy and how much it would be.

Leedom proposed a series of informational meetings this spring to address both issues.

It will be the third series of Finance and Facilities Forums the district has held in recent years. They started after a study of the district's buildings uncovered more than $18 million in needed repair work to bring buildings up to current standards. Discussion at the forums eventually led to the appointment of the task force.

The first step for taking the building plans to the public will be a March 13 meeting with the citizen task force that met last summer to consider the district's fu-ture needs and recommended a new elementary sc-hool.

Several of the board members said they felt the task force should have a chance to discuss the ideas offered by an architect hired by the board. Options include a new elementary school, closing some buildings and finding new uses for others.

"I feel we owe it to them, to show them the options," said board member Dion Warne, who also served on the task force.

Board members said they also wanted architect David Leapaldt to prepare some drawings of what a new elementary school could look like.


Many people are concerned about the board's idea for a new school, said board member Brad Schmidt.

A series of meetings could help the board explain its concept of two smaller schools, each for students in grades K-4, linked by shared common-use spaces.

Leedom proposed a series of forums for staff members in each building in the district.

Two public meetings are planned, on March 31 and on April 8. A lunch meeting for the business community is also scheduled for April 8.

The forums will let the board "find out what information the public needs," she said.

Some people in the district have followed the process from the beginning, but others are just starting to pay attention.

Schmidt said he thought people at the forums should hear about the cost of land and infrastructure improvements needed at various sites.

The board met with its attorney in a closed meeting for a half hour to discuss strategy in the board's efforts to recover money spent to repair construction errors made in the roof drainage system at the Senior High School.


A masonry contractor had sued the district and the other parties to the arbitration, claiming the statute of limitations prevented the arbitration from going forward. A district court ruling recently agreed with the masonry contractor's stand.

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