Frequently Asked Questions
Frequently Asked Questions About the Election can be found here.
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.
In early 2018, over 100 information sessions were held for district staff, students, and community members at 7 school buildings, 13 polling places, 3 churches, the library, Central Lakes College, and many other locations throughout the community.
+ 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 approved all three ballot questions encompassing this plan on April 10, 2018. Election results can be found here.
+ 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.
The Plan Going Forward
+ What will you do with the buildings that would no longer be used as they currently are?
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 will 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. 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 will add controlled entrances to all of our school buildings. This means people will enter the buildings through the main office and staff will be able to monitor who is entering and exiting.
In addition to controlled entrances, we will be bringing 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 Performing Arts Center will eliminate this foot traffic and keep the 700 students who participate in band, choir and orchestra on campus.
+ 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 investment we will make in WESB will 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.
+ 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?
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.