The Need


Why do we need both a bond and referendum?

The main reasons Cook County Schools are seeking a bond and referendum are because:

  • State funding has not kept pace with the rate of inflation and the cost of living. The legislature’s formula allowance has increased by 13.5% over a ten year period. During that same ten year period the Consumer Price Index increased 27.1%.
  • The cost of educating students has increased. Mandated services, required by law, such as MCA testing, new teacher evaluation requirements and special education are either not funded or underfunded.
  • Revenue is tied to student enrollment. Because enrollment has decreased, the district’s general fund revenue has dropped. However, many costs associated with operating a school do not decrease with a decline in enrollment.  For example, students still need bus transportation, the building still needs to be heated and utilities are still required, or a grade level which declines from 52 to 45 students would still need to be divided into two sections.

We want an excellent school- not just adequate- in Cook County. We want to see every child be successful. Education now has a competitive market, with options including going to Duluth, being home schooled or on-line instruction. Some families move to a different community with better schools. We need excellent schools in Cook County for our kids. Excellent schools also attract business and quality employees to our area.

With inadequate state funding, districts have no other place to turn than their communities for necessary revenue. As a result, over 87% of school districts in Minnesota rely on voter-approved levies to operate their schools.

Baby Sandsrom Vote Yes socks at Fish Pic Parade 7 August, 2016

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Property Tax Calculator


Levy Committee Treasurer Devlin DuVall and teacher supporter Lorelei Livingston

By trimming costs and using both a referendum and bond, the district was able to reduce the tax impact to a $250,000 residential property by 20% from the 2015 proposal. See the table below. The school board worked with administration and teachers to capitalize on timely opportunities to cut costs while also protecting direct instruction. In addition to finding ways to cut costs, they opted to use a bond for capital items, allowing the cost to be spread across all taxpayers in Cook County and repayment to be spread out over 20 years, thereby reducing the costs to individuals.

Bonding measures can only be used for capital improvements and purchasing materials. Referendums, however, are people-based and allow districts to levy tax dollars for use with course offerings and salaries. The two proposals are intrinsically tied together to fully fund the school and both measures need to pass. If either ballot question fails, major cuts in the school budget will occur.

Here is a link to calculate what your property tax increase would be:

http://levyinfo.com/LevyInfo/ISD166_2016.php

What can I do if I can’t cover the cost of my property taxes?

Minnesota has two property tax refund programs available to owners who have homesteaded their property: the regular property tax refund (also called the “circuit breaker”) and the special property tax refund. Homesteaders may be eligible for one or both of these refunds. The state also administers the Senior Citizen Property Tax Deferral program. This program allows people 65 or older to defer a portion of their homestead property taxes.

For more information see here: http://www.revenue.state.mn.us/propertytax/Pages/Programs.aspx

For Residential properties
Estimated Market Value Bond Levy Bond & Levy 2015 levy proposal

$100,000

$15.02

$58.25

$73.27

$ 97.68

$150,000

$26.42

$87.38

$113.80

146.52

$200,000

$37.82

$116.50

$154.32

195.36

$250,000

$49.22

$145.63

$194.85

244.20

$300,000

$60.62

$174.76

$235.38

293.04

$400,000

$83.42

$233.01

$316.43

390.72

$500,000

$104.59

$291.26

$395.85

488.40

The Bond Question


A bond is a legal obligation (promise) to pay back debt (principal and interest) in exchange for cash up front.    When capital needs are determined, such as renovation of buildings, the School Board can ask voters to approve bond funding. If voters approve, the District sells bonds to investors, promising a defined rate of return. Money from sale of the bonds is used to fund the capital projects, and property taxes over the subsequent years pay back the bond funds with interest to the investors who purchased the bonds. School bond funds by law cannot be used for salaries or supplies.

The revenue generated for the school through a bond is spread across all property tax payers, including seasonal/rec properties and not just the homesteaded properties.

The district will seek a $6.5 million School Buildings Bond with a life of 20 years. This translates to $4.10 per month for a $250,000 residential property in Cook County, $4.36 per month for a $250,000 seasonal recreational property or $16.13 per month for a $500,000 commercial business.

What Are the priorities for the bond?

If it passes, the bond would:

  • Renovate science classrooms and labs to improve safety, ventilation and functionality

The current science classrooms have plumbing, electrical and ventilation systems that are antiquated and beyond their useful life. The original equipment and lab facilities date back to the early 1950’s. Students interested in going into the sciences need exposure to different technologies and equipment to prepare for further education and job skills. The spaces lack current technology to properly deliver modern curriculum, are smaller than the Minnesota Department of Education (MDE) recommended standards, and lack proper storage and staff preparation areas.  Safety, accessibility, and function are compromised for our students.

 

  • Renovate family and consumer sciences classrooms to improve safety, ventilation and functionality

The current space does not meet safety standards for accessibility, ventilation and indoor air quality. The 1950’s room is not large enough to accommodate the modern FACS curriculum that deals with the economics and management of home and business. It has outdated equipment and lacks the tools necessary for students to learn to use when competing for local jobs after high school. There is also no space to serve community guests—a key piece of learning how to utilize skills and be successful in our tourism economy.

 

  • Replace old sections of campus roof to protect the school facilities

There are multiple areas of the building—including the elementary, the middle school wing, and building services—where the existing roofing is leaking and has exceeded its useful life. This has caused internal damage to the facility, ongoing maintenance, and potential indoor air quality issues. This will need to be fixed in the 2017 school year regardless of bond support. Within the 20 year life of the bond, five roof sections are expected to be replaced or repaired.

 

  • Improve sound barrier and energy efficiency in the auditorium

The auditorium was constructed in a way that allows outside sounds to transfer to the interior of the space. As a shared asset with the community, the sound intrusion limits use, creates distractions for participants and guests, and compromises the safety and function of the valuable space.

 

  • Replace bus garage to provide adequate security and protection from the elements to the district vehicle fleet

The current bus garage has fallen into disrepair. Years of foundation settlement have compromised the structure. Doors no longer close, leaving the fleet and the scheduled maintenance vulnerable to weather, vandalism, and theft. Protecting the District’s busses is critical to the safety and efficiency of our students’ transportation needs.

 

  • Complete deferred maintenance to improve safety and increase energy efficiency

In some areas of the facility, asbestos flooring still exists. The District wishes to remove all hazardous materials encapsulated or not. Many of the interior finishes (i.e. the cafeteria flooring, most of the lighting fixtures and ceiling tiles) are 20 years old and have exceeded or are at the end of their useful life. They are neither energy nor cost efficient.

  • Update Security to provide for the safety of students, staff and visitors

The current facility is not fully monitored by security equipment. New monitoring technologies are required to fully protect and serve the entire campus and ensure student safety.

  • Update technology to enhance learning opportunities

There are server and switch replacements and hardware updates needed on the computer system. The science classrooms and labs lack current technology to properly deliver modern curriculum and need updating.

  • Replace the bus fleet as it ages to ensure student safety during transportation

The entire bus fleet will need to be replaced during the 20 years of this bond.

Fish Pic Parade Marcher teacher Stephanie Lindstrom

The Levy Question


Ballot Question 2:  Referendum Revenue Increase to Maintain Current Educational and Co-Curricular Services

Levy Committee member Ann Sullivan

An operating levy is a voter-approved, property tax which generates money for a public school district to use for school operations such as salaries, extra-curriculars, vocational and college electives, small class sizes, utilities, etc. Operating levy funds cannot be used to build a building or pave a parking lot.

The levy impacts residential homesteads, apartments, commercial/industrial and agricultural properties. An operating levy does not apply to seasonal/recreational property.

The district will seek a voter-approved levy of $800 /per year/per pupil unit for six years.  This will replace the $861 per year/per pupil levy that voters approved in 2010 and expired in 2015. The revenue expected from the 2016 levy will be $385,000 per year based on 482 pupil units, or about $2,300,000 total.  The tax from this levy translates to $12.14 per month for a $250,000 residential property or $24.27month for a $500,000 commercial property.

If the levy passes, it would:

  1. Maintain Small Class Sizes for Early K-3 Education

Research strongly suggests small class sizes in early elementary is an effective way to increase student success and graduation.

  1. Provide a Wide Variety of Academics, Athletics, and Extra-Curriculars

Offerings would include high school and middle school electives in work-preparation (industrial arts, culinary arts, and business), college-preparation courses (Advanced Placement, PSEO, Calculus, Spanish), and the arts (art courses, band, music, drama, choir). The full complement of sports and co-curricular activities would be kept and costs to students and families for participation could be reduced.

  1. Ensure Long-Term Financial Integrity

For the past several school years the district has been spending down the fund balance in order to maintain quality educational programming for all students. The school board policy is to bring the fund balance to a level recommended by financial consultants to the district for prudent financial stability.

The administration and school board has begun identifying the potential cuts which include:

  • Administration cuts
  • Reduce or cut elective courses (i.e. Spanish, Music, Culinary Arts, Fitness)
  • Reduce or cut athletic offerings or increase participation fees
  • Reduce or cut co-curricular activities (i.e. Robotics, Knowledge Bowl, Environthon)
  • Cut Arrowhead Center for the Arts facilities management
  • Reduce Technology staff
  • Reduce support services to students (Guidance Counselor, Nurse, Social Worker)

 

These cuts will be in addition to the cuts made in 2016.

To ensure strong schools both the levy and bond must pass.

Frequently Asked Questions


School District Administration made enrollment and revenue projections for the next five years and projected costs to maintain current school programing and priorities. The school board reviewed these projections. In making their decision about a referendum and bond, the school board took into account many factors such as long term financial stability, expected changes in enrollment, as well as feedback the board has heard since the 2015 referendum failed.

The school board heard there was concern that the 2015 referendum amount was too high. The school board considered various ways to reduce the amount of levy needed. The school board worked with administration and teachers to capitalize on timely opportunities to cut costs while also protecting direct instruction. In addition to finding ways to cut costs, they know using a bond for some expenses can spread the cost across a larger tax base, thereby reducing the costs for individuals. Using a bond for capital items allows it to be spread across all taxpayers in Cook County.  In addition, repayment of the bond is spread out over 20 years.

By trimming costs and using both a referendum and bond, the district was able to reduce the tax impact to a $250,000 residential property by 20%.

It’s important to remember: bonding measures can only be used for capital improvements and purchasing materials. Referendums, however, are people-based and allow districts to levy tax dollars for use with course offerings and salaries. The two proposals are intrinsically tied together to fully fund the school and both measures need to pass. If either ballot question fails, major cuts in the school budget will occur.

 

If the bond fails and the levy passes, major cuts will be needed in school offerings. Some of the deferred maintenance must occur to address safety concerns even if the bond measure fails. Funding for this maintenance work would need to come from the school’s budget which would then impact other programs at the school (such as class sizes and co-curricular). If the bond fails, the district will fall further behind in maintenance of buildings, grounds and buses. The science classrooms and labs, dating back from the 1950’s, would continue to lack technology to properly deliver modern curriculum, lack adequate storage and staff preparation areas and would be smaller than State recommended standards.

 

If the referendum fails and the bond passes, major cuts will be needed in school offerings, because the bond cannot be used for salaries or operating costs. The administration and school board has begun identifying the potential cuts which include:

  • Administration cuts
  • Reduce or cut elective courses (i.e. Spanish, Music, Culinary Arts, Fitness)
  • Reduce or cut athletic offerings or increase participation fees
  • Reduce or cut co-curricular activities (i.e. Robotics, Knowledge Bowl, Environthon)
  • Cut Arrowhead Center for the Arts facilities management
  • Reduce Technology staff
  • Reduce support services to students (Guidance Counselor, Nurse, Social Worker)

Operating schools effectively within available funding is a priority. When the referendum failed in 2015, the district and school board worked together to identify reductions that would minimize impacts to students and gain efficiency where possible.  Listed below are examples of some of the reductions:

  • The District reduced the cost of a superintendent by sharing one with Lake Superior District.
  • The District Office Secretary has been combined with the Community Education Assistant.
  • Custodial Staff has been reduced by one full time custodian.
  • The media center coordinator time has been reduced.
  • The district has eliminated Evergreen Lawn Services.
  • Planned capital projects have been delayed or eliminated.
  • Your school board members have voted to not receive an annual stipend.
  • Additionally, athletics and the Arrowhead Center for the Arts have each been asked to raise $20,000 to offset their expenses.

 

In addition, the district has pursued funding from the state through programs such as Pathways & Voluntary Pre-Kindergarten to support Preschool which in turn enables a possible reduction in the amount the district has been transferring to Community Education to support ECFE and Pre-Kindergarten.

The revenue used to revise the parking lot was obtained through Abatement Bonds.  This revenue could only be spent on the parking lot. The revenue cannot be spent on day to day operations. The amount of $336,000 was levied across all property taxpayers due to the impact on public safety.  The additional spaces, handicap access and improved traffic flow helped the not only the school but the public using West 5th Street.

The IRRRB enabled the industrial arts expansion by contributing a grant to ISD166 to be used for facilities upgrades. The project list had to be approved by IRRRB, and the funds could not be used for day to day operations. The upgrade and expansion of the Industrial Arts Program was a response to requests from the public for a balanced technical and academic curriculum.  The upgrade and expansion of the Industrial Arts Program allowed for students to achieve an enhanced level of instruction in Industrial Arts.  The upgrade of the Industrial Arts section added minimal square footage to the school facility; it was mainly an upgrade of existing space.

The charter schools do not receive revenue from the operating levy.  However, the revenue generated by the levy will benefit all students in the county.  I.S.D. 166 welcomes participation of homeschool and charter school students in extracurricular activities.  The majority of charter school students and some home schooled students attend I.S.D. 166 in grades 9-12.  Adding services for children birth to five supports all schools by preparing them for success in Kindergarten. Expanding opportunities at I.S.D. 166 means expanding opportunities for all students in our county.

Minnesota has two property tax refund programs available to owners who have homesteaded their property: the regular property tax refund (also called the “circuit breaker”) and the special property tax refund. Homesteaders may be eligible for one or both of these refunds. The state also administers the Senior Citizen Property Tax Deferral program. This program allows people 65 or older to defer a portion of their homestead property taxes.

Voting Information


Who can vote?

To vote you must be:

  • a U.S. Citizen
  • at least 18 years old
  • a resident of Minnesota for 20 days prior to the election
  • finished with all parts of any felony sentence

 

How do I register to vote?

You can register and vote in person at the County Auditor’s Office, located in the Cook County Courthouse, 411 W. 2nd Street, Grand Marais during regular courthouse hours: Monday through Friday 8am – 4pm until November 7, plus additional hours Saturday November 5th from 10 – 3 pm and 8am – 5 pm on November 7th. Call 218-387-3640 if you have questions about what to bring when you register.

You can also register anytime online at the MN Secretary of State website:

https://mnvotes.sos.state.mn.us/VoterRegistration/VoterRegistrationMain.aspx

 

How do I get an absentee ballot?

If you are going to be absent on Election Day you can apply for an absentee ballot at the Auditor’s Office by phone (218-387-3640), or through the mail or in person at the Cook County Courthouse, 411 W. 2nd Street, Grand Marais.    If you need to register to vote, you can do that as part of the absentee process.

Absentee ballots will be available after September 23rd.  You can apply earlier for an absentee ballot but it won’t be sent or available for pick up until after September 23.

Where do I Vote?

Only registered voters living in the city of Grand Marais vote in person at a polling place. If you live in the Grand Marais West Precinct P-6 (3-6) you vote at the Community Center on Election Day. If you live in the Grand Marais East Precinct P-5 (2-5) you vote at the Courthouse on Election Day.

All other registered voters will receive their ballot and voting instructions by mail. Ballots will be mailed around October 20, 2016 and must be received at the Cook County Courthouse by November 8, 2016.

You can use the map with the link below to out find where and how you can vote in the November 8 election.

http://cookcountymn.maps.arcgis.com/apps/PublicInformation/index.html?appid=1a4ca826a1ec479b914c4d0688011392

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Our Supporters


ISD 166 Superintendent Dr. Bill Crandall
ISD 166 Principal Adam Nelson

I support the bond and levy measures because I want to ensure that the district is able to keep and maintain the current academic and fine arts opportunities and extra-curricular activities we provide for the students of Cook County.

Adam Nelson

Levy Committee member Pat Campanaro

I am voting yes for the bond and yes for the levy because public education is a good investment. And it’s a value investment: in our future workforce; in our community; and in the long-term sustainability of the local, regional and national economies. Good economics can help make better schools. We are all stakeholders in public education.

Pat Campanaro

2016 Levy Committee Co-Chair Becky Bartol

I am voting yes and yes for the bond and levy because I want a strong school that provides a full suite of learning opportunities for all students.

Becky Bartol

Levy Committee member Karina Roth

I will vote yes and yes for the bond and levy because Advanced Placement (AP) and other higher level academic classes are crucial to my children’s success at Cook County High School. Without the bond and levy, these classes along with other electives may have to be cut.

Karina Roth

Fish Pic Parade teacher Kathryn Ramberg and committee member Karina Roth
Levy Supporter ISD 166 Social Worker Anna Sandstrom (2)
Fish Pic Parade Lance and Becky Bartol

Show Your Support


There are many ways you can show support for the School’s bond and levy requests:

  • Vote yes and yes on both questions November 8
  • Encourage everyone you know to vote yes and yes
  • Make a financial donation to Vote Yes committee to help cover campaign costs
  • Join the Vote Yes committee
  • Place a lawn sign on your property
  • Help with calling or other campaigning

Contact The Committee


The Vote Yes Committee is a group of engaged parents, teachers, staff and community members who are volunteering their time for this important cause. State election law bars the school district from funding or supporting marketing campaigns for elections.

Please address questions to Vote Yes Committee PO Box 636, Grand Marais, MN 55604

Contact by e-mail: voteyes166 ( at ) gmail.com