Lake Ripley Elementary School

Lake Ripley Elementary School is due for significant improvements if voters approve bonding in the November referendum.

Back to school is always a special time in Litchfield. You can feel the excitement among the students, teachers and staff as we reconnect after the summer break.

For our students, it’s the start of another wondrous chapter in their lives. New opportunities. New lessons. New friends.

As we start to look ahead, I want to take this opportunity to provide an update about what has been happening over the summer regarding the future of our schools. As many of you know, we have been dealing with some significant challenges as we carry out our mission to prepare our children for life after graduation.

State and federal school funding has not kept up with inflation, new mandates, and student needs. Meanwhile, our aging schools are becoming too expensive to maintain. The buildings require extensive repairs and improved maintenance. Many classroom spaces are too outdated and cramped to support a dynamic school curriculum.

Over the years, we have taken a three-pronged approach for managing these challenges. First, we have made some difficult budget cuts in an effort to right-size our budget. This has led to cuts affecting teachers, staff and reduction in programming.

Meanwhile, education advocates have been at the state Capitol, pushing for more financial support for public schools. In Litchfield, we have spent the past year reaching out to residents for direction on how to prioritize future school investments.

Through listening sessions, a communitywide survey and the diligent work of our community task force, we have a much clearer perspective on your priorities.

It’s clear that residents want us to do all we can to protect classroom programming and class sizes. We know that the larger the class size, the more difficult it becomes to provide the individual attention students need. Further, we must improve the safety of our children as it relates to building access, parent drop-off and pick-up, and traffic flow.

Regarding our existing school buildings, the community encouraged us to focus on extending their useful life. And finally, residents noted other community and school needs, including a new pool, additional soccer field and better weight room and fitness facilities. We were asked to consider how school improvements could align and connect with the rest of the community.

With this feedback in mind, the school board put forward a new investment plan in August that renovates our school buildings and provides adequate staffing and support for our students. On Nov. 5, residents will be asked to consider three ballot questions.

The first ballot question would increase our operating levy by $625 per pupil. This investment will allow us to maintain current class sizes and programs, stabilize the operating budget and avoid future cuts. The second ballot question seeks $33 million to remodel our existing school buildings to provide more flexible learning spaces that accommodates special education, new technology and vocational programs.

The third ballot question seeks $11.4 million for a new competitive pool at the high school, an expanded weight room, fitness spaces and a soccer field. The pool would be designed as the first phase of a possible larger community pool and recreation center that would serve all Litchfield residents. Question 3 is contingent on questions 1 and 2 passing.

In order to make sure voters have all the information needed to make an informed decision on these ballot questions, we have created a website dedicated to providing referendum facts. I encourage everyone to learn more about the school board’s plan by visiting www.DragonProud.org. There, you can find a variety of information, including the process for developing the plan, more about the needs of our schools, an FAQ and a tax calculator.

We want all residents to continue to be a part of the process. If you have any questions, you can reach me at bsimenson@isd465.org or call 320-894-4098.

As always, we are Dragon Proud!

Brent Schacherer is publisher of the Hutchinson Leader and Litchfield Independent Review.

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