By Gabe Licht
DELANO, MN As Delano Public Schools considers facility expansions and upgrades, the Morris Leatherman Company completed a survey of 400 district residents regarding those plans, and the district as a whole, and presented the results at a special school board meeting Wednesday.
When asked, “Would you support a tax increase for the facility needs of the school district?” 53 percent said they would support an increase for some improvements, 24 percent said they would support all improvements in the $65 million proposal, 22 percent said they were against all tax increases for improvements, and 1 percent were unsure.
Respondents were then told the $65 million proposal would cost $24 per month, or $292 per year for 20 years, for a $150,000 home and $45 per month, or $543 per year for 20 years, for a $300,000 home.
Of those asked how much they would be willing to pay for a bond, 30 percent said “nothing,” which is 5 percent less than the state average. The average price respondents said they would be willing to pay was $14.95 per month.
Looking at individual options within the bond proposal, 69 percent support building infrastructure upgrades and safety and security upgrades, 66 percent support more classroom space in the middle and senior high school, 57 percent support a new intermediate school, 55 percent support a new performing arts center and pool and locker rooms, and 47 support stadium improvements.
“Of the bond options, there are no real deal breakers,” Superintendent Matt Schoen said. “Nobody is saying, ‘You have to be kidding me. Absolutely no way.’”
He is encouraged by those results.
“The job of the facilities committee was to say, ‘These are the needs, here are the qualifications to meet the needs, and here are the solutions,’” Schoen said. “No one is totally denying there are needs there. The key is what cost to the homeowner can they support?”
When asked, “Do you think it’s a good idea to research and facilitate these improvements?” 51 percent said it was a good idea, with an additional 13 percent strongly believing it was a good idea, compared to 24 percent who said it was a bad idea, 9 percent strongly against, and 3 percent unsure.
“We believe the community is in support of facility improvements, it’s just how much can they afford?” Schoen said.
Is $65 million a fair price? The majority, 54 percent, said no, while 38 percent said yes, and 8 percent said they were unsure.
Furthermore, 39 percent said they would support a $65 million bond referendum, 12 percent would strongly support it, 25 percent would oppose it, 22 percent would strongly oppose it, and 2 percent are unsure.
When asked to explain their reasons for their support, 18 percent said education is important, 12 percent said they had children in the school district, 6 percent said improvements are needed, 6 percent said the cost was reasonable, 4 percent said more space is needed, and 3 percent said upgrades are needed.
Those who opposed it did so for the following reasons: 19 percent said the cost was too high, 16 percent said taxes are too high, 11 percent said there is poor district spending which matches the state average and 5 percent were scattered among other answers.
Schoen compared the district to a homeowner with a 30-year-old house.
“If you own a house for 30 years and don’t touch a bathroom or anything else to fix it, you’re going to have problems. That’s where we are,” Schoen said. “We’ve added on when we’ve had to and we can’t add on anymore. We haven’t done anything to certain parts of our buildings for 30 to 40 years, sometimes it’s more than that. Eventually, that’s going to have to be addressed.”
In addition to bond-specific questions, respondents were also asked other questions, including, “What is the most serious issue facing the district?”
The No. 1 answer was nothing, at 20 percent; followed closely by large class sizes, at 19 percent; lack of funding, at 17 percent; high taxes, at 14 percent; poor spending, at 9 percent; 7 percent unsure; lack of discipline, at 6 percent; declining quality, at 5 percent; and scattered answers making up 4 percent.
Furthermore, 69 percent said district buildings and facilities are in good shape, 21 percent said excellent, 8 percent said fair, 1 percent said poor, and 1 percent said unsure.
After evaluating the survey results, the next step will be for the school board to decide whether or not to put a bond referendum on a ballot in November and, if so, for how much. That decision will need to be made by sometime in June.