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VIEWPOINT: Taking the next steps after referendum

It has been a short time since approval of two questions on the Nov. 3 ballot. As a system and community, the passage of the operating referendum question will increase our general fund revenue by $10.3 million each year for the next 10 years. The increased funding will be allotted toward maintaining our existing programs, eliminating the deficit spending we have experienced over the last few years and help us to attract and retain a high-quality workforce. 

The added funding will indeed help us to step into the future by starting us on a path toward financial stability. We are so fortunate to have the support and trust of our community and we are committed to continuing to provide the highest quality educational experience possible for our students.

Our community also supported the $96 million bond question. The funds through this question will be used to build a new Oltman Middle School, remodel and repurpose the existing Oltman building for the Nuevas Fronteras Spanish Immersion School, and to enhance our other three middle schools. When the middle school projects are finished we will have four middle schools each with a student capacity of 1,300 students. The new Oltman will be built to hold 1,100 students at its opening, with a planned addition of 200 seats to be added once growth warrants the need. We are currently negotiating for the purchase of land for the new middle school building at the corner of 65th Street and Geneva Avenue in Cottage Grove. The location is centralized to the anticipated future growth in both Woodbury and Cottage Grove. We hope to finalize the negotiation this spring.

We are grateful for the support of the projects because the new building spaces will address a number of issues. The new Oltman Middle School can be built with a focus on the current needs of our middle school students. If we simply remodeled the existing Oltman building, we would not have the flexibility to provide for research-based learning areas that maximize student and teacher collaboration through a “team” or “house” structure. We believe the new school building will galvanize our students, parents and community members around a compelling vision for the future. We will also solve the elementary space problem we have with Crestview Elementary and Nuevas Fronteras sharing one building. By remodeling the existing Oltman building to provide a permanent school for Nuevas Fronteras, we also provide the return of Crestview to a neighborhood school with room to accept future student growth from planned housing developments in Cottage Grove.

Our second bond question for $46.5 million was unsuccessful. The funds would have been used to address needed updates to our 14 existing elementary schools and provide space at our three high schools for future student growth. We will be working with our School Board to determine temporary solutions to our growth at the secondary level and the timing for a bond question to be placed on a future ballot. We had good support for the planned projects but not quite enough to carry the question. I was asked if we placed three questions on the ballot because we expected one not to pass while giving more support to the other two. The answer is no. The election process is too important to try and second-guess the community or manipulate the outcome by the type and wording of the questions. We believe we have a demonstrated need, but that need was not compelling enough for our community at this time. We will work to better understand how our community wants us to move forward and deal with the continued growth of students in our district.

As I finish writing I am fortunate to be looking out at another wonderful fall afternoon. We live in a beautiful place and are enjoying a beautiful fall. We also live in a great community with wonderful people. Thank you for the collective efforts you have made to make our school district a place where students can grow and thrive.

Keith Jacobus is the superintendent of South Washington County Schools.