Frequently Asked Questions

What is the referendum for?

How is this proposal different from the 2016 proposal?

What accommodations have been made due to increased enrollment?

Why is a new high school needed?

Why can’t you continue to use West Learning Center (formerly West Elementary School)?

Why wasn’t West Learning Center torn down when you said it would be?

How can we trust the tax calculator to accurately predict what our taxes will be next year?

How can we trust the project cost projections provided by ICS and Wold Architects?

Will the district build activities fields at a new high school with fund balance?

Didn’t the district serve more students years ago?

Why can’t the district add on to the schools?

I just received my 2018 proposed property tax statement. Why did my taxes go up (or down)?

What is the impact of the School Building Bond Agricultural Credit (Ag2Schools)?

Can the School Building Bond Agricultural Credit (AG2Schools) be repealed?

Why did the school district hire a communication specialist for the referendum?

Did the community have a role in determining this plan?

When will the work be done?

What will happen if the referendum fails?

How are you paying for the ALC/Gymnastics facility? Why didn’t you include it with the referendum?

I am hearing that there are already plans finished for the school improvements. Is that true?

I am hearing that the district is asking for “fancy” features. Is this going to be a Taj Mahal?

Why are you comparing Worthington with the Big South Athletic Conference instead of neighboring districts?

Why was the Central Elementary torn down when the facility was fine?

Why was land purchased for a new high school when you didn’t have voter approval to build a new high school? 

Why did you just add a music wing on to the high school and now you want it to be a Middle School – it doesn’t seem like you have a long-term plan?

I hear you are driving students around in Suburbans – Why?

Where can I get an absentee ballot?

Where can I find out more?

What is the enrollment history of the district?

How would the cost of the referendum be distributed among residents, businesses, and farmers?

How was the addition on the high school paid for? How much did it cost? Did my property taxes go up to pay for it?

How was the bus building paid for? How much did it cost? Did my property taxes go up to pay for that building?

How will the proposed collaborative project be paid for? How will it impact my taxes?

What is the average life expectancy of a school building in Minnesota?

How much will the district actually pay for the communication consultant to help with the referendum?

What is the referendum for?

Since Nov. 2016, our enrollment has grown – we now have 1,100 students (an average of 4 classrooms per year) more than we did just ten years ago. Our schools are filled to the brim: current 2017-2018 enrollment is 3,209 while building design capacity is 2,975 and we are projected to continue to grow! If the referendum is approved, we would construct a new high school for grades 9-12 on district-owned 155-acre site south of the existing middle school, and reconfigure Prairie Elementary, the middle school and the current high school, spreading grades K-8 across the buildings to provide appropriate instructional and program space at all grade levels.

How is this proposal different from the 2016 proposal?

The current referendum proposal is stream-lined and cost-effective. The stadium and other athletic fields have been removed. Classroom and core space reconfigurations and changes will be handled by the district without impacting the referendum. This referendum is for $10 million less than the 2016 referendum.

What accommodations have been made due to increased enrollment?

Like many organizations, necessity is the mother of invention. As enrollment has grown, and spaces filled up, school administrators and staff have found many creative ways to continue to provide a high-quality education for students. Especially at Prairie Elementary School, where increased enrollment impacts are the greatest, we’ve done everything we can to use every available nook and cranny for educational space, keeping class sizes as close to best practices as possible. However, some class sizes are creeping up, and common spaces, such as cafeterias, hallways, gyms, and restrooms can’t be expanded – the pinch there is the greatest.

Here are some examples of some of the accommodations that have been made since 2008, when the first additions were made to the middle school:

  • Additions to schools
  • Art rooms and 13 computer labs converted to classrooms
  • Teacher meeting and prep space eliminated
  • Teachers on carts (allows for classroom use every hour of the day at secondary grades)
  • Storage space used for small group instruction

 Many other accommodations have been made. Click here for a comprehensive list.

Why is a new high school needed?

To address space inadequacies at every level. The high school is actually in very good condition. It will be repurposed as a middle school so students can take advantage of better science labs and other facilities. The new high school, which would be located on district-owned farm land on the west side of Worthington, will provide an up-to-date 21st century learning environment for students. And the site offers great potential of outdoor classroom and activity space.

Why can’t you continue to use West Learning Center (formerly West Elementary School)?

West Learning Center, and West Elementary School before it, has served Worthington area residents well since Dwight Eisenhower was President in 1956. As community needs evolved, it, like most school buildings, underwent additions, updates and renovations. When Prairie Elementary was opened in 2001, the building was earmarked for decommissioning due to structural and other long-term maintenance deficiencies, but because the district has consistently had need for the space, and since West continued to be safe for students, the district chose to save money by continuing to use West Learning Center and not leasing or building new space. Now, however, the time has come for it to be closed. Staff and students have done a marvelous job over time making use of a building with many deficiencies work, but maintenance costs continue to be an issue and there are operational interruptions due to repairs.

Click here to view a detailed evaluation. 

Why wasn’t West Learning Center torn down when you said it would be?

Long before the current school board and administration, the building was earmarked for decommissioning due to structural and other long-term maintenance deficiencies, but because the district has consistently had need for the space, and since West continued to be safe for students, the district chose to save money by continuing to use West Learning Center and not leasing or building new space.

How can we trust the tax calculator to accurately predict what our taxes will be next year?

The tax calculator is provided by Baird, a financial advisor since 1919 which serves individuals, families, businesses and communities across the United States as well as institutional clients around the globe from more than 100 offices on three continents. This highly respected company provides services to many school districts in Minnesota and across the country.

ISD 518 Worthington - Website Tax Calculator

How can we trust the project cost projections provided by ICS and Wold Architects?

Both ICS and Wold are highly respected firms which have provided services to hundreds of school districts on projects worth billions of dollars. ICS Consulting provides customized consulting services, with a focus on strategic facilities planning, construction representation, technical services and facilities tax solutions, to both public and private sector clients. Wold Architects and Engineers, formed in 1968, are architects and engineers, designers and researchers, creative problem solvers, sustainability focused individuals, collaborative thinkers, and industry leaders dedicated to your community, your school, your needs, and your goals.


Will the district build activities fields at a new high school with fund balance?

Yes, we will in the future, but at this time we are focused on academic needs. This referendum does not ask you to pay for activities fields – we are intending to use district fund balance if and when those funds are available, and not increase taxes.


Didn’t the district serve more students years ago?

Yes, we served more students in the 1970s (3,643 in 1972 vs. 3,209 today). However, two significant factors explain why today’s building capacity is less: different buildings and educational mandates.

Different buildings served the Worthington district in 1972. Enrollment included Lakeview School (Crippled Children’s School operated by CCSI). This also was the first year of consolidation with Bigelow (86 students), Reading (76 students) and Rushmore (106 students) of which the district continued to operate those elementary buildings for a few years after consolidation. The district also operated the Worthington middle and high schools, and West and Central elementary schools.

Educational mandates and practices have changed how we use space so we can no longer serve as many students in the same space. In the 1970s, two major mandates were adopted by the federal government forever changing who public schools serve and how. They are the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA – 1975) which created special education and Title IX (1972), which requires public schools to provide equal opportunities for male and female students.

In the case of special education, in 1975, the district was educating a small handful of students with special needs. Today, Worthington Schools educates 487 students with special needs. Their needs vary greatly, as do their needs for space. Some students participate in regular classes, needing occasional extra teacher help. Others require one-on-one instruction during a portion of the day, still others require one-on-one instruction all day.

To accommodate Title IX requirements, schools added locker rooms for female students, and significantly increased the amount of programming (and space needed) to offer opportunities for female students. 

 

Why can’t the district add on to the schools?

The district and community facility committee explored many options to address the capacity needs, evaluating benefits, drawbacks, long-term viability, and cost. One of the options explored was to add on to the existing facilities to create enough space for both current and future enrollment growth. After studying a variety of options, the community facility committee chose the most cost effective option and long-term option that does not compromise the current sites or create additional complications.

The buildings' core spaces, such as cafeteria, kitchen, hallways, locker areas, mechanical spaces, etc. are not designed to handle more students even if the buildings had additions built for more classroom space. To create enough space for both current and projected enrollment, these spaces would have to be expanded as well, which is challenging and often requires more expensive remodeling/addition.

While additions at any of the buildings would reduce green space and demand more parking/stormwater management, the high school site is already inadequate in size. The Minnesota Department of Education would recommend 45-50 acres for the school's current enrollment, but the site is only 25.5 acres. The site lacks green space and adequate parking / bus management currently and expanding the building to add student classroom and core space capacity would multiply these problems.


I just received my 2018 proposed property tax statement. Why did my taxes go up (or down)?

There are a number of factors that cause an increase or decrease, but the biggest factor is change in property tax classification (for example, changing from homestead to non-homestead). The value of your property also impacts how much you pay in taxes. And, yes, county, city, township, and school taxes will vary. In 2018, school property taxes will increase by approximately 3.39 percent. Over the past nine years school property taxes have averaged a 1.62 percent increase. Click here for more information.

What is the impact of the School Building Bond Agricultural Credit (Ag2Schools)?

The Ag2School Tax Credit is one of the more notable outcomes of the recently completed 2017 special legislative session and creates a fairer state share of school facility costs by targeting property tax relief to farm property for taxes paid on school bonds. The 40 percent bond credit, known, as Ag2School will take effect with property taxes certified in December of 2017 and payable in calendar year 2018. Impacted property includes all class 2a (homestead and non-homestead ag land), 2b (rural vacant land) and 2c (managed forest land) property except the dwelling value (house, garage and one acre) of the property. Impacted property owners will see the reduction in the upper right-hand corner of their Truth-in-Taxation notices. The Ag2School credit applies to all current and future general obligation debt payments including this upcoming voter approved bond request. The impact on an acre of non-homestead agricultural land valued at $7,000 is estimated to be $7.05.  Without the Ag2School credit this school building bond request would have been $11.75 per acre – so that is a savings to ag landowners of $4.70 an acre.

Want to learn more on your specific property? Contact Baird today at 651-426-8533 and press option 2 for Michael Hoheisel or option 3 for Matt Rantapaa, or send an email tomhoheisel@rwbaird.com or mrantapaa@rwbaird.com.

Can the School Building Bond Agricultural Credit (AG2Schools) be repealed?

Not easily. The Minnesota Rural Education Association (MREA), representing 225 Minnesota school districts at the capitol, the Minnesota School Boards Association (MSBA), representing all 331 Minnesota school districts, State Representative Joe Schomacker, and State Senator Bill Weber, believe the AG2Schools bond credit is here to stay. It is permanent law, existing into perpetuity. Repealing or reducing the credit would mean a vote for raising taxes on the backs of rural Minnesota farmers, which is not politically appealing.  Read more


Why did the school district hire a communication specialist for the referendum?

We hired a specialist because it is the school district’s responsibility to inform the public about the facts of the referendum. We know we need to do better with communications, but we don’t have dedicated communications staff, so we don’t have the time to provide effective communications about this complicated topic. A communications specialist costs us less because we don’t have to hire a full-time ongoing staff position, and we also benefit from their previous referendum communications expertise. This saves the school district money while more effectively communicating about the referendum.


Did the community have a role in determining this plan?

Absolutely. We commissioned a survey in February 2017, to learn more about the community’s objections to the 2016 proposal. We held focus group meetings and other public meetings (including approximately 300 community members who attended 9 meetings) to solicit community input on what the next proposal would be. Community members asked to have numerous options evaluated. We asked our architects, Wold Architects and Engineers, a highly respected school architectural firm, to provide us with cost estimates on every imaginable, realistic alternative, and then explored the benefits of each. The result is a different proposal than in 2016. This request is for a project that costs over $10 million less. It does not include a stadium or athletic fields and other expenses that the community objected to. Read more.


When will the work be done?

Although preliminary, the current timelines and schedules show completion of the new high school facility in fall of 2021. This would enable major grade shifts to occur which would in-turn provide appropriate space at all grades throughout the District.


What will happen if the referendum fails?

Plan B: In the short-term, the district would continue to make adjustments that began as long ago as 2008 to adjust to growing enrollment. We’ve added on to schools, increased some class sizes, repurposed spaces (some less than ideal) for classrooms, and altered student schedules, among many others. During the next two school years, we would continue to increase class or section sizes at all levels.

In the long-term, the district would turn our traditional model of education services on its head by changing student schedules and implementing year-round school. We would implement year-round school starting at the elementary in 2020-2021, then middle school, then high school (this would take a year of planning, explanation and addressing potential barriers).

There are serious drawbacks to these plans, especially in the long-term. However, changing the schedule allows us to fit more students in by utilizing all of our space all day long. Yet this still does nothing to address cramped common spaces like hallways, the cafeteria, gyms, etc.

This type of plan will have a cost impact due to the need to hire more employees, increase transportation, and other operational impacts that have not been determined yet. Likewise, it will impact families and the community on different levels. One example would be daycare.

Ultimately, the school board does not believe this is the best direction for the district, but felt they needed to address the space issue in the next 3 years in order to accommodate the future enrollment in the district as projected.

Globe article

How are you paying for the ALC/Gymnastics facility? Why didn’t you include it with the referendum?

A new building for the ALC (Area Learning Center) and gymnastics program was approved by the school board to be constructed on property where the new high school would be constructed if the referendum is approved. In 2018, the school district will pay for the cost of bond repayment. In 2019 through the bond term, the community will pay for bond repayment in the form of a lease levy.

The school board initially wanted to use fund balance for the project, but the Minnesota Department of Education would not allow us to do that. We had hoped to fund construction with fund balance in order to avoid collecting additional property taxes.

The current ALC is located at West Learning Center, which will be closed soon. We lease space for the very popular gymnastics program (state tournament competitors for each of the last three years) in the Armory, which the owners plan to sell or find other uses for. A new facility was needed immediately.


I am hearing that there are already plans finished for the school improvements. Is that true?

No, there are no plans yet. Only preliminary concepts and parameters have been developed to be able to establish a budget for facility needs. This includes square footages, numbers of rooms, quality of building systems, etc. as defined by the planning efforts. The school has not been designed yet, so there is no picture to see. Just as it was important to involve the many users during the planning efforts, it is equally important that many people be involved in the design of the project. Once the referendum is successful, Design Planning Groups will be established including community members, teachers, staff, and even students to work with the architects in developing the design of the school to make sure if reflects the values of the Community.


I am hearing that the district is asking for “fancy” features. Is this going to be a Taj Mahal?

No - the school will not be a palace. The district is responsible for establishing the quality levels for construction of school buildings including materials, mechanical and electrical systems and finishes. The cost estimates are based on these parameters, and the buildings will use these criteria as a guideline for design. The buildings will reflect current educational needs and quality materials to meet the needs of our community without being “over designed.”


Why are you comparing Worthington with the Big South Athletic Conference instead of neighboring districts?

Comparisons include all schools from the Big South Athletic Conference as enrollment, number of facilities, program offerings, and student demographics are similar to Worthington Public Schools. That said, Worthington's enrollment is still the highest of the Big South. Neighboring districts are facing a different situation than Worthington Public Schools including older facilities and small enrollments (most are a tenth of the size of Worthington) that are stable or declining. They do not have a need for additional bonding while Worthington's enrollment continues to grow putting a strain on existing facilities. Of the neighboring districts, the closest in size to Worthington is more than 2,200 students smaller.

Why was the Central Elementary torn down when the facility was fine? 

This facility was demolished due to the major infrastructure deficiencies of the facility such as sewer, water, electrical, heating and cooling, etc. The overall structure was strong, but other important elements were in need of replacement. In addition, the facility had continued water issues within the lower level that created an environmental issue such as mold that would have continued to be an unacceptable condition without major renovation costs. The cost to address all these elements did not warrant the facility’s continued use and a plan was developed for replacement versus remodeling.


Why was land purchased for a new high school when you didn’t have voter approval to build a new high school? 

The land was purchased to define a place where a new facility would be constructed in the future as was done prior to Prairie Elementary School’s construction. The board received feedback from many individuals that they would like to know the location of a future facility prior to the election. The board made the decision to move forward with a purchase of property after reviewing a total of ten locations within the area of Worthington. The final selection was determined to be on the west edge of Worthington.

Why did you just add a music wing on to the high school and now you want it to be a Middle School – it doesn’t seem like you have a long-term plan?

The school board chose to add on to the high school based on current and future needs for both the high school and middle school. The numbers of students in music programs has grown as enrollment has grown. Our high school band classes, for example, had 65 students in 2006, and this year there are 175 students. The space added on to the current high school would serve either schools appropriately since the needs and the number of participants are similar in the music programs at both age levels. Likewise, the classroom space would have been needed in either grade level design and would have been a part of a referendum question if not already completed.


I hear you are driving students around in Suburbans – Why?

 Suburbans and mini-vans are used to transport special needs students to their educational programs for all age levels that need this service. Transportation regulations have changed and the district is no longer able to utilize large vans for transportation without major modifications to meet the required specifications. Upon, recommendations from the Minnesota Department of Transportation inspectors, the district has started to move to Suburbans versus the large vans. The district can continue to utilize mini-vans, but at times, we need more capacity than what they offer.


Where can I get an absentee ballot?

Click here for more information.

Where can I find out more?

The district website www.isd518.net has up-to-date information. Or feel free to contact the district at 507-372-2172 or email your questions to info@isd518.net.

Attend a Public Meeting/Open House:

Monday, December 11, 2017

Tuesday, January 23, 2018 6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m.

Location: High School Cafeteria

Take a tour of the facilities:

Wednesday, January 10, 2018, Thursday, January 11, 2018
7:30 a.m to 3:30 p.m. each day

Location: All School Facilities or call for a tour on another day!

How would the cost of the referendum be distributed among residents, businesses and farmers?

Because of the Ag2Schools property tax credit, the distribution of the referendum, as well as all other school bond debt, is more even than in the past.

Residences – 20%

Agricultural – 30%

State of MN (pays for tax credit) – 20%

Commercial – 17%

Other sources – 13%

 Click here for a detailed spreadsheet

How was the bus building paid for? How much did it cost? Did my property taxes go up to pay for that building?

The school board approved the use of approximately $2.3 million in general fund dollars to construct the bus building. No tax increase was necessary to pay for the building.

How was the addition on the high school paid for? How much did it cost? Did my property taxes go up to pay for it?

The school board approved the use of approximately $6.3 million general fund dollars for the high school addition. No tax increase was necessary.

How will the proposed collaborative project be paid for? How will it impact my taxes?

A multi-purpose facility, which would potentially include a county library and Community Education programming that includes Early Childhood and Adult Basic Education along with the Nobles County Integration Collaborative, is proposed. This project is still in development, so a total cost and tax impact are not known, but the school district, city and county are committed to keeping the tax impact low. A mix of funding from each of the partners, including bonding and general fund dollars is proposed.

What is the average life expectancy of a school building in Minnesota?

Approximately 60+ years, but of course that depends on repairs and upkeep over that time period. Some buildings last longer than others and can depend on many variables such as the type of construction. Predicting approximately how long before the district will need to build another school building is difficult because it depends on the growth of the community and enrollment growth. The 2018 referendum proposal will take us well into the future. The good news: as the community grows, so does the tax base, spreading infrastructure investment, including roads, sewer, water and schools, across more people and businesses.

How much will the district actually pay for the communication consultant to help with the referendum? $29,000.