FLAS considers fall levy, possible bond

Community Editor
Photo by Ryan Howard
If Forest Lake Area Schools decides to ask the public to approve a bond this year, repairing broken down athletic facilities like the high school’s north tennis courts would likely be a key item to be funded.

Several months ago, the Forest Lake Area School Board decided to form a community task force to discuss the idea of future bonding for unmet needs within the district. Member Jeff Peterson agreed to be the board member liaison to the group. May 4 was the first time the issue was discussed at the board level.

“What the group suggested is that we should definitely go for a levy increase to cover unmet educational needs and also possibly a bond to cover athletic facility needs,” Peterson said.

Several weeks ago, a resident spoke during the public comment portion of a School Board meeting about how the high school track and tennis courts are so deteriorated that they are nearly unusable. That was one factor that prompted continued bond discussions at the task force level. In 2015, voters chose not to approve an $18 million bond question that would have provided upgrades to athletic and performing arts facilities.

Peterson said that the task force had suggested up to $9 million in bonding for athletic facility needs and a levy of $500 per pupil, which would mean $3.4 million per year for 10 years.

“I believe that the $500 number is way too low and I would suggest at least $1,000 or more,” Board Member Luke Odegaard said. “If there’s a need, that’s how high we need to go. If some people don’t like it, too bad; this is what we need.”

Peterson said that the $500 was based on tax impact.

“We all know what kind of need is there, but we must make sure the community will support it,” he said.

The potential timing of the bond could be as early as November. That timeline could be affected by the implementation of a community survey to gauge interest.

“I say we go out for both because needs are not being met athletically or academically, but we absolutely must be very transparent with the community,” Board Member Jill Olson said. “Also, the bond passing must be contingent on the levy passing. My concern is that the bond will pass because it’s cheaper and I cannot support additional facilities if we have to keep cutting people.”

Not all members were in favor of bonding in the fall.

“I cannot support a bond right now because it will be too much,” Board Member Julie Corcoran said. “People just got hit with both the city center and the YMCA. We need to wait at least another year.”

Rob Rapheal, board president, brought politics into the conversation with a reminder about a possible tax refund.

“The Legislature is currently looking at passing money back to taxpayers,” he said. “That money should go to an appropriate rise to school funding. We’re going to ask for a levy anyway, so really it’s just a shifting of funds.”

The board plans to continue discussion at future meetings and will possibly schedule a series of Saturday work sessions to dig into the issue further.

Contract approved

The School Board approved a superintendent contract with Steve Massey, effective July 1. Massey thanked his family for support throughout his career and gave special recognition to his wife, Kate, for being an inspiration. He said that his three sons have benefited from a great education from the Forest Lake district and it is an honor for him to have been able to serve here and that he looks forward to his new position. He thanked the board members for their confidence in him. He also thanked current Superintendent Linda Madsen for serving as a role model for all educators in the district. A full story will run in the May 18 edition of the Times.

Performing arts upgrades

One other item of note from the May 4 School Board meeting was a vote to match grant funds from the Hanifl Foundation to provide $600,000 worth of improvements to the high school auditorium.

The Forest Lake Area High School administration has been in discussions with members of the Children’s Performing Arts group over the last 15 months. The discussions have centered on developing a $300,000 matching grant to improve various components of the high school auditorium. Those components could include upgraded lighting, sound, seating, carpeting and stage flooring, among other things.

Sharon Hanifl-Lee offered access to her family’s foundation in exchange for priority scheduling for the Children’s Performing Arts and the Masquers Theatre group.

School district legal counsel created a draft of the grant agreement and two facility use agreements. In exchange for $300,000 from the Hanifl Foundation, the school district will use long-term facility maintenance dollars to fund $600,000 worth of improvements to the high school auditorium. The school district will also extend rent-free use of the auditorium over the next 20 years to Masquers and CPA. An expanded story featuring an interview with Hanifl is expected for an upcoming edition of the Times.