Proposed bonding bill includes millions for Red Lake schools
BEMIDJI—Gov. Mark Dayton's proposed bonding bill includes millions of dollars for a project at Red Lake School District.
The governor recommended allocating $14 million to pay for six new classrooms, a larger cafeteria, renovated music and fine arts classrooms and updated mechanical systems at Red Lake's elementary school and early childhood center.
The planned project also includes a corridor connecting the school district's early childhood and elementary buildings, which Red Lake Superintendent Anne Lundquist said house about half of the district's nearly 1,500 students. The project's primary motivation, she explained, is to add classroom space.
Lundquist said more student programming and slightly increasing enrollment have made space tough to come by.
Materials Lundquist and other district staff presented to state legislators over the past several months describe students learning math and reading in spaces originally intended for storage; classrooms for art, science or music being repurposed for general education; and Lundquist said the elementary school's stage is used for teaching or staff space, now.
"Every nook and cranny is being used," she said.
Materials provided by district staff predict the district will have an average of 1,551 students each school day this year, up from a low of 1,262.44 in 2007.
The state Legislature typically approves the sale of hundreds of millions of dollars in bonds in even-numbered years, and the revenue from those sales goes to a vast slate of projects throughout the state. Lawmakers didn't reach a bonding agreement in the 2016 legislative session.
"Time is of the essence to make up for that last bonding year," Dayton said earlier this week. His proposed bonding measure this year includes $1.5 billion worth of projects, which also include replacing BSU Hagg-Sauer building, renovations to Itasca State Park, and a regional dental facility in Bemidji.
The proposal will still need to work its way through the GOP-controlled Legislature. Sen. Dave Senjem, R-Rochester, who heads the senate's Bonding Committee, suggested Republican lawmakers would be more amenable to a measure that allocates slightly less than $1 billion, which means some projects included in the governor's proposal could be pared down or pruned entirely.
Red Lake staff also hoped to get two other large projects included in this year's proposal: $11.2 million worth of renovations and upgrades at the school district's combined middle and high school building and $2.7 million in similar projects at its Ponemah complex.
Neither was included in the governor's proposal.
"Like you might do at home in your budget, we tighten our belts, we try to make do," Lundquist said of the school district's plans for the two buildings. "We are seeking out grant opportunities through various sources and then trying our best to realign funds in our budget to make sure things are taken care of."