School board candidates: What about the referendum?The referendum election on Tuesday, April 3 calls on voters to decide whether or not the Hudson School District should purchase St. Croix Meadows dog track as a secondary school site. The Star-Observer asked the six school board candidates about the referendum and the consequences of the outcome of the vote.
By: Meg Heaton, Hudson Star-Observer
There are six candidates for three seats on the Hudson Board of Education that will be decided in Tuesday’s election.
The field includes incumbents Brian Bell and Tom Holland and challengers Liz Bruch, John Burtis, Sandy Gehrke and Catherine Leaf. Seats on the school board are three-year terms.
The ballot also calls on voters to decide whether or not the Hudson School District should purchase St. Croix Meadows dog track as a secondary school site. The Star-Observer asked the candidates about the referendum and the consequences of the outcome of the vote.
After your own research and talking with voters, will you vote yes or no on the referendum to buy St. Croix Meadows dog track as a site for a new secondary school and why?
Bell: Yes I support the referendum. We need a long-term secondary solution. Our current middle school is over capacity and our high school is under significant stress (such as lab space and core areas). The Hudson school district region is a desirable place to live and our region will experience increased growth. The St Croix Meadows facility is well suited to a secondary school. The site is built to handle large amounts of people and traffic. It is a large site that gives us flexibility, and a significant portion of the current building/infrastructure can be used to defray future construction costs.
Bruch: I decided to enter this race before the referendum became public. I still consider other school issues of more immediate importance. Should I be elected to the board, all my votes that can be public will surely be so. As normally expected on voting matters, I intend to keep my vote on the referendum private even as I affirm the right of others not to. What I will eagerly share publicly is my promise that whatever referendum decision our community makes, if elected I will respond in a manner that best assures the greatest good for our students and school district.
Burtis: I support responsible school investment and construction of a new secondary school to address current and projected overcrowding. I share concerns I hear voiced regarding the referendum, notably: the lack of a comprehensive building plan, failure to seek cooperation of city zoning officials, lack of a definitive assessment of the existing UU property, and an inflated purchase price. By failing to adequately address these concerns, the board provides the public a classic Hobson’s choice — between the dog track and nothing at all. The board has unfortunately jeopardized an overall building solution with such a difficult preliminary vote merely on a parcel of land.
Gehrke: This week I obtained additional information from the district regarding enrollment figures. It appears that when you include Trinity and St. Pat’s students in the student count moving into the MS and HS there will be upcoming space issues. A solution needs to be found, but I do not support the purchase of the dog track. Looking at the building costs of other new schools around the state, a new building would likely be $70-80 million. What would we use the current high school buildings for and what will it cost to remodel? District residents are hurting financially. The school board has not presented us with a complete plan or a total price tag.
Holland: I am in favor of the referendum to purchase the dog track as a first step towards creating a solution for our secondary needs. The reasons are that we won’t find another piece of property within the Hudson city limits that is as suitable, cost effective and provides the kind of space for growth and flexibility.
Leaf: I will vote yes on April 3rd. Over the past few months, I’ve spoken with many voters and read the assessments and reports about the UU property and St. Croix Meadows site. According to an assessment done in 2010, the existing district-owned property on UU is not a suitable site for a secondary school due to wastewater and infrastructure issues. The St Croix Meadows site has existing infrastructure and for the price is an opportunity that shouldn’t be passed up.
If the referendum passes, describe what kind of secondary school you would like to see constructed on the property?
Bell: I believe the secondary solution we build should be one of the three final recommendations proposed by the facilities task force — a two-year junior high (expandable to four-year HS), three-year HS, or a four-year HS. I believe we need to review the task force’s recommendations, refresh the data, and gather feedback from the community.
Bruch: Again, it is not my opinion that is important at this time. My intent is to listen carefully to the community input that the current board has promised to solicit. Using that input, and hoping that the new board will seek additional independent, non-affiliated, credible feasibility studies, I assure you that I will work collaboratively to provide the best alternative(s). I promise thoughtful and non-fear based analysis as we seek to implement the referendum.
Burtis: The newly-elected board must act diligently to define a comprehensive plan for the secondary grades whatever the referendum outcome. If available, the dog track property can serve as the cornerstone of a general reconfiguration of the secondary grades in Hudson. I support commissioning a joint administration-community task force to recommend the best secondary grade configuration. I am open to and would likely favor the recommendations of such a task force. I would favor construction of a three-year senior high school or a junior high school and a reallocation of the remaining grades among the current facilities with reasonable remodeling if required.
Gehrke: The School District may not be able to construct anything on the property. The next step would be rezoning which the city of Hudson may not approve. It also involves Hudson changing their long range plan for the city. Hudson would lose 33 percent of their remaining commercial space. If it’s rezoned there is the potential of $1.2 million in lost property tax revenue every year. The school district’s share of this lost revenue would be $518,784 per year. The city needs to be very thoughtful about the request for rezoning and what it means to the city long term.
Holland: I will hold my opinion on the type of secondary school to be placed on the property should the referendum pass. It is important that the community be engaged in a process to determine the most appropriate solution. I don’t think it would be a good idea for me to express my opinion until we are in the decision making process with community representatives.
Leaf: If the April 3rd referendum passes, I would like to see the scenario that the district’s Long-Range Facilities Task Force recommended in 2004. This plan involves changing the current middle school configuration to grades 6 and 7. The current high school would be converted to grades 8 and 9 and there would be new construction on the St. Croix Meadows site to accommodate grades 10-12.
If the referendum fails, what solution would you support to address secondary school overcrowding, both in the near future and beyond?
Bell: I believe building a new secondary school is in the best interests of our students, our staff, and our community. I don’t believe “non-build options” such as year round/multi track curriculum or increasing class sizes are viable options for our community. We have limited locations within the Hudson school district boundaries to locate a new secondary school, that provide for both our short/ midterm needs (next three to seven years) as well as flexibility for even more growth over the long term (greater than seven years). The board has the responsibility to have adequate space for education. We believe the current proposal is the best for our community. Should the community not agree, the board will work to bring forward other option(s)
Bruch: A solution will likely have several phases that are not immediately obvious. To provide more clarity, the board will quickly have to review current and projected class sizes and demographic shifts; seek immediate input about space and programming from a task force made up of students, teachers, parents, support staff, and community members; review non-building, reconfigured building, building expansion, and possibly new building alternatives; and use that new and reviewed information to provide prioritized suggestions to the community for their review and comments.
Burtis: A referendum failure would signal public rejection of the particular piecemeal proposal put forward by the board and of the process employed to reach it. I do not believe such a failure would signal the public’s wholesale rejection of a building plan. I would look to any near-term option that avoids increasing class size or fundamentally changing educational hours. Alternative building plans should move forward, with particular emphasis on evaluating potential uses of the district’s existing UU property or other available sites. The board should have a reasonable contingency plan for any referendum. That they failed to do so here is unfortunate.
Gehrke: Year round school is being utilized around the country. Additional virtual courses should be an option. An addition to the high school and middle school may be possible. Open campus is an idea. If it’s determined that adding on will not work then UU could be looked at for an 8-9 building. The district has a 2003 survey map showing where sports fields, parking, etc., would be located on UU. An 8-9 building could probably be constructed with a private septic/well. If UU won’t work then the district should seriously investigate the property adjacent to the government center. District construction on that property would have far less of an impact on the City of Hudson. Any of these options should cost far less than the potential of $70-80 million.
Holland: If the referendum fails, the community will have indicated an unwillingness to purchase additional property as a solution. Therefore, we will have to look at solutions within existing resources that could negatively impact our ability to provide as high a level of education as we are accustomed to offering. Those could include raising class sizes, year round school calendar, longer school days, online classrooms etc.
Leaf: If the referendum fails, the district will need to look at alternatives to address the overcrowding before it negatively impacts student outcomes. I think the district would need to look at things such as flex scheduling and increasing the number of on-line courses offered. These are not good options, but better than increased class size and staff reduction that I would absolutely not support.
Information about the upcoming election and a sample ballot is inserted in this week’s Star-Observer.