People who have visited the North Branch Area Public Schools’ website recently have likely noticed a button at the top of the page that reads “Maintain, improve, invest; vote NBAPS May 23, 2017.”
Click on that button and the viewer is brought to the first of a series of pages with information about the district’s upcoming referendum.
NBAPS Superintendent Deb Henton and community relations coordinator Pat Teeporten mulled over this information in detail during the March 23 Lunch and Learn meeting at the North Branch Area Chamber of Commerce office.
Unlike last year’s effort, which was one question and failed by 125 votes, this year’s referendum is broken down into three parts.
The first question asks voters to approve funds to maintain the schools with safety and security improvements, address deferred maintenance needs and update classrooms and other district facilities, according to a fact sheet on the district’s website. If that question is approved, it would equate to a $59.225 million, 25-year bond. On a home valued at $175,000 (the average price of a residential dwelling in the county) this would have a tax impact of 83 cents per month.
The second question is a funding request to improve athletic spaces with a gym addition to the high school and updates to both the middle school and high school gyms. This question seeks $10.94 million over a 25-year bond. The tax impact of this question is $4.42 per month on an average-priced home.
The third question requests voters invest in classroom technology to support student learning. Approving this question would result in $500,000 per year for technology at the schools for a 10-year period. The tax impact of this question is $4.08 per month on an average-priced home.
If all three questions passed, most taxpayers in the area would be paying $9.33 a month more on the school district portion of their property taxes.
Questions about tax impact
One of the people in attendance for the meeting was local real estate agent Jim Antolik. He asked Tepoorten and Henton a question that they said has been brought up frequently during this referendum effort.
“If the first thing is $59 million and the next is about $10 million and the next is $500,000, why in the tax analysis was it about $1 and $4 and then $4?”
Tepoorten fielded that question later in his presentation.
“Why is the tax impact of question No. 1 so much less than the tax impact of question No. 2 when the bond cost of question No. 1 is higher than the cost of question No. 2 (and 3)?” he said, rephrasing Antolik’s query. “The reason for that is we have debt falling off. What we’ve done is we’ve designed our bond structure to backfill that debt, as it falls off. The amount of question No. 1 is significantly higher than question No. 2, but the tax impact is smaller. That is because the vast majority of the tax impact of question No. 1 falls into that space created by the falling debt, and the 83 cents is what is left, after you’ve kind of eaten up that space.”
Henton said she’s heard some comments about the district not knowing how to do math when people read about the tax impact per question, and they’re working hard to explain it to people.
Three questions explained, early voting
Henton noted that having one question increases the likelihood of a referendum passing, but after last year’s failed attempt residents were surveyed about why they voted the way they did, and the district found there were a substantial amount of residents who would have preferred a multiple-question referendum.
“From our perspective, the more questions you add on, the less likely the other ones are going to pass,” Henton said. “There’s a 25-percent reduction in each question’s chance to pass. The second has a 25 percent less chance to pass and the third and so on. We did what we heard, though — that’s what people wanted (the three questions). That’s why we’ve broken it out in the way that we have.”
Even if the second question doesn’t pass, the district would like to be able to better utilize its athletic spaces, so as part of the first question about $1.4 million would be allocated to switch from natural to artificial turf at the football stadium.
Community Education Director Brett Carlson, who two years ago was also the district’s athletic director, was at the meeting and explained that the field is used about 20 times a year between football and soccer. Installing artificial turf would result it in being used much more often, and it would cut down on the maintenance dollars spent on the field.
“You would not believe how much we spend on fertilizer and maintenance,” Henton said, noting that over time the money saved from less upkeep would end up paying for the artificial turf.
The election for the three funding requests is May 23, from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. at the North Branch Area Education Center, 38705 Grand Ave. District residents can vote early, however, starting April 7. Residents can complete both the application and ballot in one stop by going in person to the education center. Residents who want to vote by mail must call or email the district to request an application (651-674-1011 or [email protected]). Residents who want to vote by mail are encouraged to apply early so they have time to receive the ballot and mail it back before Election Day.