District 911 moves forward with process to seek bond, operating levy

The Cambridge-Isanti School Board is moving forward with the process to seek a bond referendum and operating levy this November.

During the board meeting March 21, the board approved a motion to direct administration to prepare a resolution that would allow the district to hold an election in November asking the voters to vote on a $10 million bond referendum and $1.5 million operating levy.

Superintendent Bruce Novak noted, as discussed in past meetings, the $10 million bond referendum will have no tax impact on taxpayers.

The $10 million bond referendum will be used to make improvements that need immediate attention. The improvements affect all the school district buildings and are needed for students’ health, safety and welfare and the buildings’ security and efficiency.

The improvements have been described as “big ticket” items, with one of the more expensive items including $4.5 million to replace the entire ventilation system at Isanti Middle School. Other projects include office relocations to allow for better security monitoring when visitors enter and leave school buildings.

“The building improvements are necessary to improve security and enhance our ability to protect our children and create safer learning environments for our children,” board Chair Tim Hitchings said.

“Safety and security is huge,” board member Jenni Caulk added. “We have issues that need to be addressed.”

The board has yet to specifically identify what the $1.5 million operating levy will be used for, but board members indicated they don’t want to see anymore programs discontinued.

“I don’t want to see us having to cut programs again,” board member Lynn Wedlund said. “I’ve always been proud to live in the Cambridge-Isanti School District because of what we’ve been able to offer our students. We’ve already cut so much in the foreign language, arts, athletics, fine arts and more. All of these offerings are important for the development of a child. I know seeing a $1.5 million operating levy will be significant for some families, but I don’t feel it will be insurmountable for them.”

Director of Finance and Operations Robyn Vosberg-Torgerson explained the district will be using more than $2 million in deficit spending for next year, encompassing approximately $1.6 million of the fund balance.

She explained the fund balance will be at 12.5 percent of the district’s total budget, which is the board’s directive. The fund balance provides approximately six weeks’ cash for operations.

Regarding tax impacts from the operating levy, Vosberg-Torgerson said if the $1.5 million operating levy is approved, a residential home valued at $125,000 would see a tax increase of $67.49 per year, equaling $5.62 per month. After checking with Isanti County, she said, the average home value is $112,000.

A home valued at $100,000 would see a tax increase of $53.99 per year; $150,000 home would see a tax increase of $80.99 per year; $175,000 home would see a tax increase of $94.49 per year and a $200,000 home would see a tax increase of $107.98 per year.

“The school district taxpayers need to look at this as an investment in the future and an opportunity to look at what this means for our community,” Hitchings said. “We need to be able to offer our children a proper education so they can become productive members of society.”

Novak noted, out of the 338 school districts in the state, Cambridge-Isanti is one of 38 districts who do not have an operating levy in place.

Board members indicated the operating levy is needed to sustain the programs in place.

“Cambridge-Isanti does an awesome job with the amount of funding we have,” board member Gary Hawkins said. “But think of what we could do with more funding. We need this operating levy to sustain what we have. I think going out for an operating levy is the necessary thing to do, and we shouldn’t be afraid to ask our voters for help. We just need to make sure the knowledge is out there in the community.”

The board still needs to take action on the final resolutions to seek a bond referendum and operating levy.

Technology presentation

The board heard from technology administrators, as well as teachers, regarding the impact of technology in the school district.

Technology Director Bruce Anderson explained iPads and iPods can be found throughout all the district school buildings. He said, in the past year, all teachers have been provided with an iPad and trained to use it. He said teachers now have remote access to all their mobile devices, as well as file access.

Cambridge Middle School teacher Shawn Kirkeide explained the students are active on the iPads.

“The iPads help keep the kids engaged, and we see amazing results,” Kirkeide said. “These devices are helping our students learn and they are understanding what they learn. The technology in our classroom with computers and iPads have kept the students interactive and engaged in learning the entire time.”

Cambridge Primary School teacher Kellie Theisen said technology helps her students with reading and math, and students utilize the math applications found on the iPad.

Isanti Primary School teacher Trish Fenner said technology has helped enhance literacy, math and handwriting with her students, and she demonstrated several iPad apps the students use.

Speech-language pathologist and special education teacher Cherie Berg said she uses technology in her classroom about 75 to 80 percent of the time. She said the iPad has apps that help the students with their sound articulation and reading skills.

Isanti Intermediate School teacher Dave Blanchard explained his students use an iPad daily for reading, math, spelling and learning.

When Blanchard asked his students what they like about the iPad they responded with “it makes learning easy and more entertaining.”

“IPads have drastically changed how students interact,” Blanchard said. “Every student has the opportunity to hold an iPad and it has changed how they do things and how they learn. This has really benefitted our students.”

Cambridge Middle School teacher Erin Johnson said she uses technology daily in her social studies classes, and she demonstrated how the students used an iPad for a recent Civil War lesson.

All of the teachers who presented during the technology showcase expressed gratitude to the school board for allowing the purchase of iPads, and all agreed the results are showing that students are becoming more engaged and more efficient learners.