After referendum approval, what's next for Hermantown?Hermantown bond supporters — grateful for their Tuesday victory — are looking ahead to the next step, working in the same fashion as when the building plan was formed: With the involvement of residents.
By: Jana Hollingsworth, Duluth News Tribune
Hermantown bond supporters — grateful for their Tuesday victory — are looking ahead to the next step, working in the same fashion as when the building plan was formed: With the involvement of residents.
Now that voters have approved the $48.9 million bond referendum, a committee of School Board and community members will be formed. That group will send out requests for qualifications or proposals and make recommendations to the board based on what it gets back from companies, School Board chairwoman Deanna Gronseth said.
“It’s been so valuable having different members of the community involved in the plan,” Gronseth said. “There are a lot of people in Hermantown who work in finance, who work in construction, who work with different management models. We look forward to using their knowledge.”
The district hopes to begin construction this summer on the projects, which include a new high school connected to the old one, which will be converted to a middle school. The elementary school will receive an addition and the old middle school probably will be torn down. The district estimates the property tax impact to the owner of a $200,000 home to be $381 a year for 25 years.
Supporters on Wednesday were thankful for the 54 percent voter approval from Hermantown residents, noting how soundly the more expensive 2009 referendum was defeated.
“When you look at the uphill battle we had, in 2009 it was 82 (percent) to 18,” said former Hermantown Mayor Dan Urshan, who opposed that referendum but supported this year’s measure. “Anybody who has been in the political game like I have over the years knows to turn (that) loss into 54-46 is really pretty amazing.”
Another pro-bond Hawk Pride member, Kelly Biondi, said the approval is a result of the grass-roots effort of the group, which worked for months planning and advocating for the school plan.
“The results are a direct impact of each and every community member that took a stand and maybe even got out of their comfort zone to go out and have those tough conversations and visit with families,” Biondi said. “It was just an incredible effort with a lot of passion.”
A smaller opposition group called Hermantown Citizens Acting for Responsible Education worked with Iowa-based political consultant Paul Dorr — a critic of public education who has worked to defeat dozens of referendums across the country — to scuttle the bond measure.
The group, led by Warren Berg, was opposed to tax increases —which he said would be greater than projected —and the district working with Johnson Controls Inc., which was hired for the first two planning phases of the project. The company managed the controversial and recently completed Duluth school district Red Plan.
Some people were bothered by what was perceived to be misleading and manipulative information given out by the opposition, Urshan said. It included a postcard mailed shortly before the election.
“People didn’t like that kind of monkey business in Hermantown,” he said, noting he was told by some voting “no” that they were doing so because they couldn’t afford a tax increase, and not because of information from the opposition group.
Dorr’s involvement may have had an effect in a sense that “he’s against public education and we’re, of course, for public education,” Gronseth said. “I think (the vote) showed that the majority of people in Hermantown were supportive of it.”
And many of those who do support education, she said, voted against the measure because they can’t afford a tax increase.
“We are all pretty respectful of that fact,” she said.
Berg, who couldn’t be reached Wednesday, has recently said that Dorr was hired because his group needed help to mount a campaign against the bond referendum, which was backed by larger and more powerful organizations.
Hermantown Mayor Wayne Boucher doesn’t see any lasting division in the city because of the plan’s approval. He knows it has happened elsewhere, he said, but the kind of activity that caused it didn’t happen in Hermantown. The Hawk Pride group, he said, worked hard to inform residents about the plan and the process.
“I don’t think there are any festering resentments in the community that would carry into the future,” he said. “The people who did come forward to oppose this are very good people, and their opinions are considered and respected.”
Boucher understands the aversion to increased taxes, he said, “but I am glad we are going forward with a building project instead of trying to patch up what’s been there for years.”