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A hot debate: Mott-Regent Public Schools district to vote on $14.5M bond

Press Photo by Mike Hricik Mott-Regent Public Schools Superintendent Myron Schweitzer discusses the building of new elementary and high schools in a public meeting Thursday night at Regent’s American Legion.

REGENT - A debate continues over the building of new elementary and high schools in the Mott-Regent school district, which would entail raising property taxes.

On Tuesday, May 20, eligible residents will vote for the district to secure a bond costing no more than $14.5 million and to raise its debt limit to 10 percent — the highest rate allowed by law.

For the referendum to win, a 60 percent majority of voters must cast their ballot in favor.

Superintendent Myron Schweitzer said he expects a very close vote.

Taxes would increase by 77 mills for residential, agricultural and commercial property owners.

For a home with full value of $50,000, the homeowner would pay $173.25 annually. For an agricultural or commercial property with full value of $100,000, the owner would pay $385.

School leaders plan to keep the project at $14.5 million or less because that equals about 10 percent of the district’s value. According to law, district debt cannot exceed 10 percent.

With interest, paying back bond debt will cost a little more than $21 million, taking 20 years, according to board information.

Voting will occur at Regent’s American Legion and Mott’s National Guard armory from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. The vote will not happen on primary election day in June because voters would have to drive to two different places, Schweitzer said. Absentee ballots have been sent out and must be accepted by 5 p.m. on May 20, or be postmarked on May 19, Schweitzer said. Voters must bring a form of photo ID.

On Thursday night, district leaders convened at the Regent Legion Hall with about 20 community members attending one of the several meetings held since March to provide information about the referendum.

As part of an interest in renovations, the district conducted a feasibility study on existing school structures last summer, inviting engineers to assess options for dated facilities, board member Lucas Greff said.

The newest structure, an expansion to the high school in Mott, was completed in 1964. The elementary school and a portion of the high school were built in the early 20th century.

Options from a feasibility study included remodeling the existing elementary, old high school and new high school buildings; creating an addition and remodeling the same structures; doing nothing; or building new schools.

After the feasibility study, three public meetings were held, Greff said. People who attended those meetings overwhelmingly wanted to build new school structures, he said.

All other options, except for new buildings, do not solve the problem of limited parking and energy costs, Greff said.

Issues of safer entry points, handicapped accessibility and maintenance would be solved with renovations, but the district would still be saddled with early 20th century buildings, Schweitzer said.

School board chairman Bill Gion said he wants to do everything he can to stop a potential school shooting from happening at a Mott-Regent school. At the existing school, there are 15 unsecured points of entry where doors are not monitored, Greff said.

“I came to our school board after the shootings in Connecticut,” Gion said. “It happened there. It could happen here.”

Ray Kilzer of Mott, who has opposed the school board’s wishes to build a new school, wants to only replace the elementary school while keeping taxes low in the short term.

The building of a new elementary school only would cost between $6.1 million and $7.2 million, according to board estimates. Greff said it would take about 10 years to pay for that loan.

New structures would be built at one of two locations, both of which are near the Mott Country Club golf course and Hettinger County Fairgrounds. Both sites would involve donated land, Schweitzer said.

“There are more reasonable solutions acceptable to more people in the community,” Kilzer said.

In 2011, as workers began to move to the state for the oil boom, Mott-Regent’s enrollment began to rise. It has risen by about 3 percent every year since then, Schweitzer said, resulting in a school board projection that enrollment will increase by up to 30 percent in the next 10 years.

The projection has influenced design plans.

Kilzer said he believes increases has been because of overflow from the Dickinson school district and does not indicate a lasting trend.