Crookston School District voters in a special election on Tuesday, Nov. 5 approved two ballot questions by a wide margin, and also elected Mike Theis to the school board by a comfortable margin over the other candidate, Jim McBride. Theis will finish the term of Kari Miller, who resigned earlier this year when her family moved to Grand Forks.

“I want to thank everyone who voted for me,” Theis told the Times Wednesday. “You have my word that I will work very hard to ensure the success of every student in the district. After all, that is what it is all about.”

The results are unofficial until they are canvassed and certified by the school board at a Nov. 12 meeting.

The first ballot question asked district voters to extend an operating levy, due to expire in 2022, for another decade. “Yes” votes totaled 1,085, while “no” votes totaled 335. The referendum brings in around $1 million in education revenue to the district each year.

The second question asked district voters to approve the construction of a bus garage/transportation facility for just under $3 million on Highland School property, on the northern edge of the parcel. Building bonds will be issued to build the facility. “Yes” votes totaled 998, while “no” votes totaled 423. The new facility will replace the 80-plus-years-old bus garage located near downtown and where Crookston Central High School once stood. The building has leaks and poor ventilation and is too small to accommodate the size and dimensions of today’s newest school buses.

School Board Chair Frank Fee told the Times Wednesday that Tuesday was a great day for the community and the school district. Continuing the operating levy was a “must,” he added, and approving a new bus garage was a “need.”

Giving two thumbs up as he walked across the fellowship hall at the church, Olson, when asked for his reaction, said he wanted to thank the community and district for showing their support and faith in the school district and the public schools. “My message is, thank you community...thank you,” Olson said. “This is awesome.” Olson added that he thought the margins on both questions would be closer.

Theis, naturally excited to be elected to the school board, is just as excited that district voters so enthusiastically supported both ballot questions. “The residents have shown their support for the district; now it is time for the board and district to work together in order to make Crookston Public Schools as great as it can be.”

Theis said he looks forward to working with Olson and the rest of the board, and that he’ll be a “watchful steward” of taxpayer dollars. “We asked for the dollars, you approved the dollars, now we need to spend them wisely,” he said. “I believe our current board will do just that.”

The results to the bus garage question are a far cry from a special election in the spring of 2017, when school district voters soundly rejected a more expensive bus garage/transportation facility, along with other facilities-related ballot questions seeking a football field and track complex on Crookston High School property, as well as a second gymnasium.

District Buildings, Grounds and Transportation Coordinator Rick Niemela said he’s happy that district voters realize just how important it is to replace the current bus garage facility.
“The replacement of the Crookston schools bus garage has been needed for a long time and always put on the back-burner because of other needs of the district,” he told the Times Wednesday. “Now the legwork is done and the real work will begin in the coming months to make this a reality.

“The transportation staff would like to thank all the people involved in this project from the design committee, the people who helped to get out the information on the project and the voters who approved the project,” Niemela added.

In the months and especially in the weeks leading up to the Nov. 5 special election, Olson led an information and education blitz on the logic behind both questions and the specifics for both. Large public forums were held, and Olson in recent weeks also hosted several small informational gatherings at local restaurants over lunch and dinner. Although attendance was paltry at most of the events, Olson said all along he didn’t want anyone to vote no on either question because they didn’t have enough information. He also wrote numerous articles for the local media explaining the reasons for the two ballot questions.

Fee said Olson did a “marvelous” job in the process leading up to Tuesday’s successful votes.

The board chair also singled out district farmers for praise. Even currently enduring one of the worst fall harvests ever, Fee said farmers voted in favor of the ballot initiatives anyway. He added that he thinks the 50% tax credit on ag land was critical in lessening the tax impact on farmland.

“All in all, we as a school board give our heartfelt thank you to the residents of the district as they continue to invest in our schools and children,” Fee added. “We appreciate your commitment and we can say without hesitation, we will continue to move in the right direction for our students and staff.”

As for the school board race, Theis garnered 890 votes, to 438 votes for McBride.

Theis thanked McBride for running.

“He obviously has a passion for the success of the district as much as I do,” Theis said.