Frequently Asked Questions
Last updated 2.19.2018
+ Why are we voting on a bond referendum?
Residents will vote on April 10 whether to approve funding for the Board of Education’s plan to make investments in our schools, including new construction and renovation that will improve classroom education, health and safety and preserve the life of our buildings.
The Process to Develop a Plan
+ Have local community members been involved in the long-range facilities planning process?
Yes, local residents have been involved since planning began nearly three years ago.
In 2014, 22 local residents, 10 district employees, and 2 Board of Education members worked with the Cuningham Group, a consultant with expertise in education needs, to develop a comprehensive list of needs in our schools. A report was presented to the school board in late 2016.
In 2017, community input was gathered through eight community listening sessions, more than 25 school district staff listening sessions, more than 100 presentations to local community groups and nearly 1,800 responses to phone and online surveys.
+ Where are we in the long-range facilities planning process?
In December 2017, the School Board adopted a plan to address the needs identified during the three-year planning process. This plan includes:
- Improvements in our existing elementary schools, and a new elementary in Baxter.
- Improvements in our secondary buildings, including consolidating high school activities primarily into the North Campus.
- Creating an early childhood education hub and expanding classroom space for our growing number of young learners.
- Improving the current performing arts center for both school and community use.
Voters will decide whether to approve all or parts of this plan on April 10, with three ballot questions included as part of the referendum. More information can be found at Blueprint181.org.
+ What has guided the long-range facilities planning process?
The School Board adopted eight objectives for facility planning, seeking schools that promote Opportunity, Innovation and Success:
- Safe and secure facilities
- Mechanical and educational adequacy updates
- Space that fosters best practice instruction & 21st century opportunities
- Spaces that promote robust opportunities in academics, arts, activities & athletics
- Increased community collaboration, ownership and workforce development
- Visionary technology integration
- Transparency, engagement and community trust-building
- Highest quality educational opportunities for our taxpayers’ generous investment
+ Why are these improvements needed now?
The plan addresses health, safety and classroom needs in all of the district’s schools. Elementary schools are already significantly over capacity. The demand for more space will continue to grow as enrollment increases by a projected seven percent over the coming decade. In addition, the growing need for early childhood education programs requires us to develop a thoughtful plan for their education.
+ Has the school board adopted specific items that will be part of this plan?
Yes, the plan calls for the following improvements in three ballot questions:
BALLOT QUESTION ONE - $68 million
- Build a new elementary school in Baxter;
- Repurpose the existing Baxter Elementary building for an Early Childhood Education programming hub;
- Renovate and expand at Harrison, Garfield, Lowell, Nisswa (including Early Childhood Education) and Riverside Elementary Schools;
- Update the Washington Educational Services Building (WESB) for Brainerd Early Childhood Education programming, Fun 'N' Friends child care program, district administrative offices and the Paul Bunyan Education Cooperative offices.
BALLOT QUESTION TWO - $69 million
- Major renovation and expansion of Brainerd High School North Campus to bring all 9th-12th grades under one roof, including updating classrooms, multipurpose, and collaboration spaces; improving the gymnasium and pool; and providing a 950-seat auditorium;
- Renovation of South Campus building for the Lincoln Education Center, STARS and Transitions Plus programs, as well as maintaining the wrestling/locker rooms and district vehicle parking and servicing area;
- Remodeling at Brainerd Learning Center to expand the alternative education programs;
- Increasing safety and security at Forestview Middle School and addressing the drop-off and pick-up issues;
- Deconstruction of the Lincoln Education Center building.
BALLOT QUESTION THREE - $8 million
- Upgrade the proposed high school auditorium to a 1,200-seat performing arts center, encompassing an orchestra pit, lighting and acoustic updates;
- Approval of Question 3 will be contingent upon the approval of Question 2.
+ What will you do with the buildings that would no longer be used as they currently are?
If voters approve the plan, the current Baxter Elementary building would be repurposed as an Early Childhood Education hub to meet growing demand, and the south campus of the high school would be used for educational programs currently taking place at Lincoln Education Center, as well as STARS and Transitions Plus.
Lincoln is slated to be deconstructed and then demolished, if the plan is approved. Deconstruction will allow us to utilize any salvageable materials, like the air conditioning units and furniture, and recycle whatever can be recycled before the building is demolished.
+ How are you proposing to increase safety at the school buildings?
Safety and security of all our students, staff and visitors to our school buildings has been a very high priority throughout this process and is the first of the 8 Objectives [inset link]. Another high priority has been to establish standards for the type, amount and quality of space across all our school buildings. We are proposing to add controlled entrances to all of our school buildings. This means people would enter the buildings through the main office and staff would be able to monitor who is entering and exiting.
In addition to controlled entrances, Question 2 proposes to bring all 9th-12th graders under one roof at the north campus of Brainerd High School. Students and staff currently go back and forth between north and south campus every hour of the school day so the doors between the buildings must remain unlocked. Students and staff also travel approximately three blocks over three busy intersections to rehearse for concerts at Tornstrom Auditorium. The auditorium in Question 2 and the Performing Arts Center in Question 3 would eliminate this foot traffic and keep the 700 students who participate in band, choir and orchestra on campus.
+ Could buildings that the district has sold (Whittier, Franklin, Edison) have been part of the solution to our current school needs?
No. Each of those school buildings had issues that made it inefficient and/or ineffective to continue operating as a school facility and the amount of money needed for rehabilitation was larger than the Board of Education was willing to spend. For example, Whittier was a very small school with just one classroom at each grade level that would have been very expensive to continuing operating.
+ Can you just attach the north campus and south campus of Brainerd High School?
The issues we hope to address through major renovation at Brainerd High School go far beyond the safety and security concerns of having students going back and forth between two campuses every day. There are significant efficiencies to be gained by having the entire high school student body under one roof. In addition, if the high school vacates the south campus, then it can be repurposed for use by students in programs currently located at Lincoln Education Center.
+ What will happen to attendance boundaries in the event of new and/or right-sized buildings?
The Board of Education would rearrange the attendance boundaries to balance the enrollment at each elementary school and to make the most efficient use of transportation services.
+ Does any independent agency review our plan?
Yes. The Board of Education is submitting a Review and Comment document outlining the specific plan, benefits and funding for the Minnesota Department of Education. They will complete their review prior to the referendum, and the Board of Education will hold a hearing to discuss their comments.
+ I heard that one option was to close all the elementaries and build one big school where the state hospital is.
One large building would reduce some operating costs. But we would lose the benefit of neighborhood schools, transportation costs would skyrocket, and many young learners would get lost in a school with 2,000 or more K-6 students. The Board of Education plan calls for us to continue to have six elementary schools.
+ What are you going to do with the high school farm?
The school district does not own the property located south of Brainerd. We lease parts of the property for storage and will likely continue to do so.
+ Is there an option to build an elementary on the Forestview land?
That is one of the options the Board of Education is considering, although there are other properties nearby that would also work for the new Baxter Elementary.
+ Why are you not building a new school to replace Harrison?
After listening to community input, the Board of Education determined that investments in the existing Harrison made more sense than constructing a new school.
+ Will homeowners and other property owners around Garfield, Harrison and Lowell be affected by expansion at those sites?
Traffic flow may change at some of the schools in order to improve student safety. In addition, a small number of homeowners may be approached to determine if they are willing to sell their land to improve the school site.
+ Why can WESB be used for children again when it was previously stated it could not?
Investments over the last few years have made portions of this building suitable for younger learners. The proposed investment in WESB in the current plan would allow us to continue to provide these services, as well as office space, at the site.
+ Why can an elementary school sit on 3-4 acres when it is in town but when building new the school would use 20+ acres of land?
The recommended size for elementary schools comes from the Minnesota Department of Education, and is based on the number of students who will be attending school there. The MDE strongly suggests that school districts follow these guidelines for new schools. However, they also recognize that existing neighborhood schools are on smaller lots, and they work with school districts to develop plans to preserve adequate parking, activities and future expansion without meeting the requirements for a new school.
+ Why are you proposing to deconstruct Lincoln?
The costs to address extensive maintenance needs, bring the building up to federal disability access requirements and renovate in ways that make the building safe and secure are too great to justify the taxpayer investment.
+ How would property be acquired in places where site expansion is necessary?
It will be done through a transparent process to ensure homeowners are treated respectfully and compensated fairly.
+ How long will the construction process take?
The plan has a four-year schedule to minimize disruptions to learning.
+ How will the district pay for the increased costs of operating bigger buildings?
Should the plan be approved by voters, we expect the net increase in operational expenses to be less than half of 1%. Addressing many of the maintenance needs at the buildings and updating mechanical systems to newer, more efficient systems will provide savings to help offset the projected increase.
Funding the Plan
+ How is a plan like this funded?
School districts have annual maintenance budgets, and also have levy authority and state funds that supplement the maintenance budget. The Board of Education has determined the existing funding can pay for roughly 35 percent of the cost of the plan. The additional funding will come from the sale of bonds, if local residents approve the three ballot questions. Learn more in this article from the Brainerd Dispatch
+ Why bond?
A bond is like a mortgage on your house, allowing all necessary investments to be made over several years but paying for the cost over 20-25 years. It is less expensive to address remodeling and repairs at the same time, and we avoid construction inflation by paying for labor and materials now instead of at some time down the road.
+ What is a bond referendum?
A bond referendum is an election that allows local residents to decide whether the school district should sell bonds to fund improvements in local schools. Without approval from voters, the Board of Education would have to rely on the normal maintenance budget for repairs.
+ Who buys these bonds?
Usually large investors who are looking for a very safe place to earn interest without the risk of the stock market or a start-up company.
+ If this plan is approved, will property taxes increase?
Yes. Here is a look at the estimated school-related property tax increase for the district’s median home value of $156,200, if any or all of the ballot questions pass:
- Ballot Question One: Taxes will increase by $3 per month.
- Ballot Question Two: $3 more per month.
- Ballot Question Three: $1 more per month.
- All 3 Ballot Questions: $7 per month for the owner of a median home in the district.
Homeowners, as well as owners of seasonal, business or agricultural property, can find out tax impact information for their property on the tax calculator at Blueprint181.org.
+ How does Brainerd Public Schools compare to neighboring districts on school-related property taxes?
+ How does Brainerd Public Schools compare to similar districts on school-related property taxes?
+ If the referendum passes, will all the money go to facilities or will any of it go to teacher development?
By law, the referendum proceeds will be dedicated to buildings. We would not be able to use any of the funds for operations such as professional development for our teachers. However, over the long term, investments in our school buildings to address maintenance needs and improve efficiency will likely allow more district operating dollars to flow to classrooms.
+ How much of the cost of the plan goes towards construction?
Between 80 and 85 percent of the cost of a typical school building project is used for construction. The other 15 to 20 percent goes for design, engineering, permits, legal work, land purchases and other professional services.
+ We’ve seen so many staff cuts, budget cuts – how can we talk about spending new money?
It is important that we find ways to invest in both adequate staffing and modern facilities. Under state law, the budgets for operating expenses and building projects are separate – we can’t transfer building funds to address operating needs.
+ If this passes, would there be another referendum or an operating levy for these schools?
There are two types of levies that voters approve – operating levies for the operating budget, and building levies for bonds for construction. The April bond referendum would be for building construction, expansion and renovation only. There are no current plans for an operating levy request this year.
+ If the secondary plan in Question 2 passes and the performing arts center in Question 3 doesn’t, can the performing arts center be financed privately?
Possibly, although that would require a large amount of fundraising to accomplish that goal. In addition, there would be additional costs incurred if it was built after work on the high school is completed.
+ Are we still paying for the debt on Forestview?
Our debt payments end in 2023 The proposed plan provides for smaller debt payments on the new facilities plan until we pay off our debt for Forestview, in order to keep the tax impact to property owners as consistent as possible.
The Election Process
+ Where and when is voting?
The polls will be open between 7 a.m. and 8 p.m. on Tuesday, April 10 at 15 locations in the school district. Early voting begins on February 23, 2018. You can find out more about early voting here
+ Why wouldn’t you put the referendum on the general election ballot in November?
After three and a half years of hard work, this plan is ready. The community is focused on making the right investments in their schools, and residents deserve a chance to vote on this plan. If we wait — even seven months — the costs of this plan will only go up. Just using normal construction inflation, every month we delay means another $650,000 in construction expenses. We believe that the modest expense of a local election is a worthwhile investment vs. the growing construction cost. If we wait until November, we will lose an entire construction season and gain another year of construction inflation. The State of Minnesota only allows school districts to hold elections on five dates during the year. We have picked the date that has best balanced when the plan is ready and the need to hold down future costs.
+ Do all three questions have to pass for the bonds to be issued?
No. Question 1 (the elementary school plan) and Question 2 (the secondary school plan) are distinct. If one passes but not the other, the Board of Education will move forward with the approved portion of the plan. Question 3 is not approved unless Question 2 is also approved, as it would be too expensive to expand the performing arts center prior to making other investments in the high school campus.
+ How do I vote if I won’t be in the area between February 23 [when early voting begins] and April 10 [election day]?
Voters can request an absentee ballot be mailed to them. The completed ballot must then be returned before the election. More details on this process and how to request a ballot can be found here. In-person early voting will occur at the Crow Wing County Courthouse between the hours of 8 a.m.and 5 p.m., Monday through Friday starting February 23, and between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m on Saturday, April 7.
+ How did all six elementary schools earn Blue Ribbons if the buildings are such a challenge?
We are proud that Brainerd Public Schools is the first school district in the nation to have all its elementary schools earn a National Blue Ribbon in 2014. That honor was achieved by teachers, students, parents and community members working hard on a unified, aligned curriculum over the course of several years. But this award recognized the quality of our education, not the quality of our facilities.
+ What is a controlled entrance?
A controlled entrance is one where access to the interior of the building is monitored and controlled. Most commonly, this is either a camera and buzzer system or an entrance into an office where a visitor would sign in before entering the rest of the building.
+ What does deferred maintenance mean?
Deferred maintenance refers to repairs that our buildings needed but we did not have the funds to pay for at the time.
+ Will you come talk to my church or other community group?
Yes, School Board members and the administration will talk with any group that wants to find out more about long-range school facilities planning and the plan residents will vote on in April 2018. Contact us here or 218-454-6900 to schedule a visit.
+ How much does the pool get used during the school day?
It is used periodically during the instructional day. The ability to use the pool during the day is hindered by the difficulty of getting to the pool from the locker rooms if a person has mobility impairments. The small size of the pool limits its use for swimming and diving athletic events. This plan will address those issues.
+ Will you use local people to do all this work?
Under state law, any project with a value greater than $100,000 must be publicly bid and awarded to the lowest bidder. Local preference is not permitted. However, local bidders would certainly be encouraged to bid on the project or obtain subcontracts for work.