Litchfield School District voters made history when they passed an excess levy and a $33.8 million bond last week.
“I don’t think Litchfield School District has had a bond of that size pass,” Business Manager Jesse Johnson said. “This was a big commitment for our community.”
The referendum ballot included three questions — an excess operating levy, the $33.8 million bond, and an $11 million bond. Two of three questions passed, with only the request for $11 million to building a swimming pool, soccer field and other improvements being rejected.
Question 1 was approved with 1,584 "yes" to 1,065 "no" votes. Likewise, question 2 received 1,400 "yes" to 1,248 "no" votes. Question 3, however, was rejected with 1,528 "no" to 1,110 "yes" votes.
Superintendent Beckie Simenson said School Board members and administrators learned a great deal about the community through the referendum process. The process also drew together the community, local businesses and career tech and education programs, Simenson said.
“We learned that the community is so supportive of the school district and very much looking forward to helping us move in a positive direction — to help our kids continue to be successful,” she said.
The approved excess operating levy, school officials say, will maintain current class sizes, enable student access to educational materials, protect class activities and athletic programs from budget cuts and stabilize the school budget. The district currently receives $724 per pupil in state funding, and the excess operating levy will raise the per-pupil funding by $625. Property tax for a home valued at $137,000 — the average-valued home in the district — will increase by $142 per year.
Passage of the bond, school officials say, will expand and upgrade classrooms, create safer school entrances and improve school infrastructure. Question 2 asked for $33.785 million, which will increase property taxes for a home valued at $137,000 — the average-valued home in the district — by $114 a year.
Although construction of an eight-lane swimming pool, a larger fitness room and a soccer field isn’t an option yet for Litchfield School District to build, Johnson views the issue positively. He’s learned through the example of Hutchinson School District that perseverance leads to desired outcomes.
“Because, we don’t just measure things in one day,” he said. “We got an election one day, but if you look at Hutchinson, they’ve tried for 10 years to pass bonds to build a new high school, and they finally did it overwhelmingly with their community. And I heard on Tuesday, they also got them to approve a $28 million elementary. So if that tells us a tale for Hutchinson, it might say something for us — we’re not done.”
Simenson noted that the construction planning could begin as early as Wednesday with ICS Consultants.
“And what that means is they’ll tell us a little bit more specifically about what the timeline is going forward,” she said.
Johnson said a financial advisor will provide the School Board with a presale report for the bond sale. The School Board will then pass a resolution to call for the sale of the bonds, which could be sometime in January, he said.
“The project is going to take some planning and coordinating,” Johnson added. “The School Board is going to try to have the least effect on the school year, kids and education. We’ll probably be finishing sometime in 2021. Since the taxpayers voted to provide us with $33 million of their money, they want us to take the time necessary to do it right. So we’re going to do it right.”
The School Board is in the process of hiring an oversight committee and an architect, which will be determined in the next couple of months, Simenson said. This may affect the school calendar.
“As far as when is the first shovel going to go in the ground, I can’t tell you that,” she said. “But it may affect our start time next year. We may need an early start next year as well. Just so that we can maximize the construction time. I know we need a project oversight committee, and that would have representatives from each one of the buildings, as well as administrative team members, because we want their input, as we move forward.”