One seeks new bus garage, other seeks operating levy extension

    Crookston School District Superintendent Jeremy Olson is envisioning district voters going to the polls in November 2019 to answer to ballot questions. One would involve the construction of a new bus garage, and the second would ask voters to extend an operating levy they approved in 2011-12 that’s set to expire during the 2021-22 school year.

    The district’s Long Range Planning Committee has endorsed Olson’s plans for two November votes, and he’ll likely detail his plans to the full school board when they meet on March 25.

    The board at a working session this week interviewed two of the eight architectural firms that responded to the district’s request for proposals from firms wanting to be involved in the bus garage project. Once the board approves a firm, which Olson previously said is required by state statute, efforts will ramp up to design a building that would likely be located on Highland School property and would also likely be less expensive than the bus garage proposal put on the ballot in the spring of 2017 and soundly rejected by district voters.

    As for the operating levy that Olson hopes voters will extend, it’s a cost-neutral measure that he said won’t change district property owners’ property tax scenario from what it’s been since they approved the ballot measure eight years ago.

    District Business Manager Laura Lyczewski tells the Times that voters approved two ballot questions in 2011-12. One generated $100 per pupil unit and that revenue was earmarked for the operating budget at the Crookston Community Pool. That referendum will be allowed to expire now that the City of Crookston is on track to officially take over ownership of the pool from the school district this summer.

    The other approved ballot question generated $1,000 per pupil unit for the district’s operating budget, Lyczewski said.

    Although he said his proposed November 2019 timeline is a “bit tight,” Olson said he also thinks it’s “realistic.” His main reason is twofold. For one, the superintendent said the November 2019 election will be significantly quieter than the November 2020 election, which is a presidential year and will include a lot of “partisan, political rhetoric.” For another, Olson said if district voters reject extending the 10-year operating levy for another decade this November, it will still give the district a couple more opportunities to put the question on the ballot in 2020 and, if necessary, 2021, in search of approval.

    School Board Chair Frank Fee said if voters reject extending the operating levy, the fate of the bus garage ballot question will pale in comparison. “If (extending the operating levy) fails, the bus garage doesn’t matter,” Fee said. “If we don’t pass the operating referendum, we might as well close our doors.”

    Olson said he’s confident that there’s time to positively and productively communicate with district voters the need for yes votes on both ballot questions. “There won’t be a lot of competing messages out there, not a lot of distractions with a November 2019 vote,” he said. But, even more important, Olson added, no matter when the votes are cast, the district has a compelling story to tell.

    “We’re not asking for more than we need, we’re being responsible,” he said. “I think people understand what we’re trying to do, I really do. I just want us to be responsible financially, and communicate well.”