St. George officials: Expansion won’t hike taxes

March 9, 2019

BOURBONNAIS — The St. George Elementary School District won’t ask for more money from taxpayers if a referendum for a school expansion passes next month, a top official says.

In the April 2 election, St. George voters will decide whether to let the district borrow $7 million to expand and renovate the kindergarten-through-eighth-grade school.

“The plan is not to ask for more taxpayer money than you’re currently paying,” Superintendent Helen Boehrnsen said at a public meeting Thursday night. “What we’re planning is housing the students we currently have. It’ll provide room for every student. Right now, we don’t have room for every student.”

Districts up north have built schools in recent times that they end up closing because enrollment growth is less than expected — a scenario that St. George wants to avoid, Boehrnsen said.

“The board of education wants to take the responsible approach,” she said. “Our focus is to house the children we have.”

St. George, too, predicts higher enrollment. That’s because of planned hiring at CSL Behring and Nucor, as well as expectations that developers will build more houses in platted subdivisions, the superintendent said.

Boehrnsen spoke during the second of two “informational” meetings with the public. About 50 people attended, about a third of whom were school employees.

A school district is legally barred from using its resources to publicly advocate the passage of a referendum, but it can provide information about a school’s needs.

During the meeting, the district presented a short video of fifth-graders who have spent the last three years in mobile units that are used because of a lack of space in the building. The students said they liked the school, but explained that it would be better if they were in a fixed building, rather than going out in the cold a number of times each day.

Throughout the past two decades, the school’s enrollment has doubled.

Even when the district last expanded its building in 2004, officials knew it would not be the end of it.

The borrowing for the proposed project will merely replace the bonds the district issued for the last addition. If the referendum fails in April, the tax bill for a $200,000 house will drop by more than $400 per year as the previous bonds expire.

With the borrowed money, the district hopes to add eight to 10 classrooms. The expansion would replace eight existing mobile classrooms, which have been used for the last seven years. The superintendent and other administrative staff will continue to work out of other mobile space.

The borrowed money also would pay for more parking, security system upgrades, a renovated bandroom, a relocation of the playground, electrical and plumbing improvements, and a renovated main entry for security purposes, the superintendent said.