First community forum scheduled for Thursday, Aug. 8 at 6 p.m. in CHS auditorium.
When Crookston School District voters on Election Day, Nov. 5, get to the district’s two questions on the ballot, Superintendent Jeremy Olson wants to make absolutely sure that they know everything they could possibly know about the two things they’re being asked to vote on.
The first question will ask them to extend for another decade a 10-year operating levy they previously approved that is due to expire in 2022. If for whatever reason a majority of district voters rejected an extension in November, the district would have two more opportunities, on election day in 2020 and 2021, to ask them to extend the operating levy.
The second question will ask voters to approve a new bus garage for the district, to replace the current one near downtown that is more than 80 years old and in disrepair. In 2017, district voters soundly rejected a bus garage initiative with a price tag approaching $3.5 million. The project they’ll be asked to approve this November carries a price tag around $500,000 less than the 2017 project.
While the bus garage question is fairly straightforward, the question seeking a continuation of the operating levy is a bit more convoluted. If the operating levy is allowed to expire in 2022, district voters would clearly see a decrease starting in 2023 on the property taxes they pay to the school district. But what makes this particular ballot question so unique is that if a majority of voters approve an extension of the current operating levy, the school district portion of the property taxes they pay would actually decrease compared to what they’re paying now. That’s because the original operating levy approved by voters included annual revenue specifically earmarked to the Crookston Community Swimming Pool to finance various repair and improvement projects. With the school district and City of Crookston reaching an agreement to transfer pool ownership to the city – a transaction that became official July 1 – the school district no longer needs to generate the pool-specific revenue, so the operating levy voters will be asked to extend will, therefore, be reduced. So, technically, although statute requires that the wording of any operating levy ballot question include the words “tax increase,” if district voters agree to extend the current operating levy, their property taxes paid to the school district annually will be less than what they’re paying now.
School Board Chair Frank Fee has said previously that if voters don’t extend the operating levy, it won’t matter much whether or not the district has a new bus garage. Without a continued operating levy, he said, “We might as well close our doors.”
Public information, education blitz
Olson wants to get the word out in a major way on what both ballot questions are all about. To get things started, a community forum will be held in the Crookston High School auditorium Thursday, Aug. 8 at 6 p.m. Similar forums are in the works for September and October as well.
Prior to Olson’s hiring last year, previous similar community forums have been held in the CHS commons, but Olson said he has heard loud and clear that the acoustics in the commons are not conducive to important information being disseminated and a productive discussion taking place. “I’ve talked to people, and it’s critical that we use the auditorium because of the sound quality,” the superintendent said.
It’s anticipated that district supporters in the community will form some sort of “Vote YES!” committee, although Olson and board members cannot serve on such a committee or otherwise be directly involved in any effort that encourages people to approve any ballot question.
There will also be informational documents sent to district residents, twice, in the mail.
In order to potentially reach younger voters, information will be disseminated via social media. Like, although several public tours of the current bus garage will be scheduled, it’s possible one or more tours will be live-streamed on social media for those who can’t be there in person. “Then people can click on it whenever they want,” Olson said.
Extending the operating levy will be as much a part of the public information and education effort as the second push for a new bus garage, which would be built behind Highland School. “We can’t let the operating levy get lost in the bus garage,” Olson noted.
“I think people will understand the reasons we’re doing these things, but if they’re adamant, if they think any tax is a bad tax, we’re not going to win those people over,” he continued. “We’ll focus on the undecided people or the people who want more information.”