Some emotional words were thrown around at a school board meeting in Rothsay, Minnesota Monday night. About 75 people came out to take a stand against a new $19.4 million school bond the board approved against the wishes of the farmers who will foot the majority of that bill in taxes.
"You guys are forcing this on us, and you're kind of condemning this town," Shannon Maack, a taxpayer, said during public comment at the meeting.
Last summer, the majority of district voters swallowed a price tag of more than $19 million to approve building a new school. The Rothsay Public School currently serves 265 students in grades pre-K through 12. Parts of the building date back 107 years, as the rest has just been added on with growth of the district. Today, Superintendent Warren Schmidt says the building is busting at the seams. In fact, Schmidt shared a story on Monday of a student who had to practice his drums in the library because there was no other room.
"The building is old. It costs a large amount to bring it up to code again, and as we sat and looked at it, we felt that building new was a better way to go than remodeling," Schmidt said.
The School Board meeting on Monday, however, was filled with the taxpayers hungry for a voice. Much of the crowd wasn't allowed to cast a vote in the summer. Because many of them own farmland in the district, but don't live on that land, their vote legally doesn't count. The tax is known as a 'Non-Homestead Tax,' Schmidt explained.
"I just don't understand how you can justify such a thing," Jim Blaufuss, a landowner who lives on the Ottertail River, said. "The problem is, the ones that are going to pay the bill are the ones who couldn't vote for the most part."
Jesse Stuehrenberg lives in Breckenridge, but owns 300 acres in the Rothsay school district.
"I am extremely disappointed in how this information came out," he said. "I'm not a resident of this district, but I didn't learn I was losing about $20 an acre for thirty years until the tax bill came in the mail."
But, the superintendent says he has more important numbers on his plate: the century of wear and on tear on this building, and the 265 students who need better facilities.
"That's what has ben lost on this," Schmidt says. "The fact that we haven't really addressed what's important to kids. You heard tonight, there wasn't one thing mentioned about kids."
The School Board says there is no option to go back on plans for the new building. The bonds have been sold. Next month, they hope to approve the new building plans. By Spring, they hope to have broken ground on the new school.