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COMMENTARY: We’re not waiting to propose new investments in PR Area Schools

The school board sees several advantages to pursuing a referendum now. Historically low interest rates, plentiful labor and lower construction costs would make a referendum passed this year cheaper than later. That means greater value for both Park Rapids Area Schools and our communities.

Lance Bagstad
Lance Bagstad

At Park Rapids Area Schools, we are celebrating the return of all students to in-person learning. The COVID-19 pandemic has brought many challenges, but I am confident that better days are ahead of us. In the meantime, we remain committed to protecting students’ health and following state and federal safety protocols.

No matter the obstacles, Park Rapids Area Schools is committed to providing dynamic learning environments that adapt to changes in the needs of our students and community. The pandemic delivered a stark reminder about the clear value of educating our children in a school classroom setting.

That is why on April 13, the district will present voters with a bond referendum that, if approved, would invest $59.8 million in our most critical school facility needs. The plan addresses our space constraints, improves safety and security, updates our buildings to meet today’s standards and meets growing demand for career and technical education (CTE).

Renovations would include properly secured entrances that will move the offices to the main entrances to minimize the number of visitors that have access to our buildings. Additionally, buildings and playgrounds would be updated to meet ADA standards for those with disabilities. A new bus garage would be constructed to safely store and maintain district buses and eliminate the need to cross Highway 34. The plan would also provide new tennis courts and playground equipment.

Community input has played an essential role since the district began planning to address the challenges of our aging buildings nearly two years ago. Nineteen listening sessions were held with students, staff and community members, and phone and web surveys received hundreds of responses from district residents.

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After a bond referendum was narrowly rejected last November, it became clear that many residents needed more time to consider a bonding project. The school board turned to the community for further guidance, which revealed overwhelming support for pursuing investments in our school facilities. After careful consideration, the school board has decided to present voters with a single ballot question with clearer and simplified language.

An increased demand for career readiness makes these improvements necessary to properly prepare our students for the future. Additions to the high school would provide new, flexible spaces for our rapidly expanding CTE programming. CTE exposes students to specific skills and career experiences, which better prepare them for jobs or additional schooling after graduation. The seventh and eighth graders would benefit by being exposed to these offerings at an earlier age. Overall, the plan would put the proper age groups together to increase collaboration between the grades.

From a financial standpoint, the school board sees several advantages to pursuing a referendum now. Historically low interest rates, plentiful labor and lower construction costs would make a referendum passed this year cheaper than later. That means greater value for both Park Rapids Area Schools and our communities.

If voters approve the referendum, district taxpayers with a median home value of $200,000 would see a tax increase of $10 per month beginning in 2022. More information about the needs, process, and costs of the referendum can be found at PRoject309.com, including a tax calculator. We hope the website provides the details you need to make an informed vote.

Early voting begins Feb. 26 and continues through April 12 – either in person or by absentee ballot. You can cast an early vote at the Park Rapids district office from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday. Absentee ballots can be requested on the referendum website, or by emailing ksplett@parkrapids.k12.mn.us.

This is a truly exciting opportunity for our students and communities. I look forward to engaging with you as we approach election day.

I am available to answer any questions or comments you might have at lbagstad@parkrapids.k12.mn.us or 218-237-6501.

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