Community gathers to vote no


Julia Hansen

COPE (Concerned Owatonnans for Public Education) meeting discussing reasons for to vote against the upcoming referendum

Julia Hansen

Editor’s Note: This is a two-part series of the grassroots organizations associated with the upcoming bond.

Owatonna community members are voting for a new Owatonna High School building in the May 14, 2019 election. The Owatonna Public School Board has currently done open tours for the public to view the reasons for the consideration of a new building bond referendum. Many school officials and community members have different viewpoints on a new building. Factors like money, health, and functionality of the current building are the main arguments.

The Concerned Owatonnans for Public Education (COPE) group in Owatonna has met three times to spread the word on reasons why citizens should vote no to the school board bond referendum. In their presentation, they covered expense as one of the major reasons why the bond should not be approved. According to the information, COPE gathered from the Owatonna School Board, it would cost $116,700,00 to build the school, with an additional $127,000,000 in interest, totaling to $243,000,000. Not including farms, this bond would raise property taxes 11-15%, causing a financial issue within Steele County. COPE member, Marlene Nelson said, “I am personally a part of this group [COPE] because I do not want to see this town or county in debt.”

COPE has many other reasons why people should vote no in the May election. Since the high school was listed on the National Register of Historical places in 1986, Owatonna considers the school as a historical landmark. Members are concerned with the fewer opportunities children will have in transportation to a school out of downtown. Students will be limited with the inability to bike or walk to a school in the center of town. The school district is contemplating paying $18,000 an acre for 100 acres, however, according to the county assessor, the highest price for a 100-acre lot is $6,300 per acre.

Why would we support a school that is not meeting their academic criteria?”

— COPE meeting participant

Dale Fairbanks led the presentation and has been a part of COPE for 10 years. He is concerned about Owatonna losing their community feeling if the school is built outside of downtown. Fairbanks said, “Legally, once they approve the bond, they can do whatever they want with it.”

The student population has not grown in the past 10 years and is not expected to have a growth progression for the next 10 to 20 years.  The group referenced MCA test data. Currently, only 53% of students met the math standard, and 56% met the English standard. One COPE participant said, “Why would we support a school that is not meeting their academic criteria?”  

The group is concerned about how Owatonna’s public image is affected by their academic standings, affordability and growth. In the meeting the group quoted the Owatonna People’s Press saying, there is approximately 180 homeless students attending OHS, and thousands who are on free or reduced lunches. This rise in taxes would push families into a money crunch, causing more students and parents not being able to afford food or a house.

COPE has currently six people in their steering committee and has had around 130 people attend their past three meetings. COPE has a goal to vote no on the bond, and instead spend money on reconfiguring the current high school and improve educational resources. The committee members plan on joining the school board task force to provide input and discuss the possible improvements of the current school. There are no upcoming events for the COPE group. Fairbanks and Nelson started a Go Fund Me page to support their efforts in reaching more people in the community to vote no.

Everybody involved in the ISD761 district can vote at the election on May 14, 2019, and polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. For more information, COPE has its own Facebook page and updates regularly.