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Kelsey Nordick, Published January 25 2014

Letter: Better way for school in Rothsay

The people against a new Rothsay, Minn., school have never been against making improvements to benefit students. I have toured the school and see the need for action. We don’t have a problem helping pay for something that will benefit our community and kids. We just want to see a more feasible and sustainable option put on the table. It feels like no one is listening to our concerns. The root of the problem is not the money but the amount of money per pupil and the disproportionate disbursement of the tax.

The opposition, which had many ideas to share with the school board regarding different options to make this affordable and utilize as many current assets as possible, was never given the chance to have their ideas considered. Public meetings were held prior to the vote but, by then, the school board had dismissed the idea of remodeling and determined that they were going to hold an election to pass a referendum to build a new school. Voters were told the board had been working on this for more than a year and it was time to vote, even though this was the first that most people had heard a word about it. This is when the opposition started asking questions and demanding answers.

Voters attended the meetings to share their concerns. The tax does not replace all other taxes. This is an added cost, up to tens of thousands of dollars each year for some.

The money has to come from somewhere, and farmers will have to find a way to make up the difference; for some, just to keep their farms afloat for the next 30 years. Many of these farms will take away from family living. Farmers will have to make up the difference by making business choices, as well. This will vary anywhere from where they sell their crop and buy fertilizer to where they buy tires and get their trucks fixed.

There are many more cost-efficient options for Rothsay area farmers rather than supporting local businesses as they do now. In the past, farmers have chosen to receive 10 cents a bushel less on corn or pay a little extra for fertilizer just to support the local elevator because they have been able to. That is no longer going to be the case.

To clarify, we are not talking thousands of dollars that will potentially be leaving the Rothsay economy; we are talking 100s of thousands of dollars, if not millions of dollars that will no longer be turned over in our little community of Rothsay each year. Those are millions of dollars that will still be spent because they are necessary expenses in the farming business; it will just be spent elsewhere to make up enough of the difference needed to pay for the school.

Farmers have a lot of pride in what they have and the community in which they have chosen to establish their roots, and most are more than willing to support that community. However, they are going to do whatever they have to in order to keep what they and their ancestors have worked so hard for, so hopefully they can pass their way of life on to the next generation – even if it means having to turn to resources outside their home community.

The other point I would like to mention is how disproportionately this tax is being applied. We acknowledge that the people in the city of Rothsay are still paying for the new school and have not been exempt, however, with the removal of the old school operating levy, they will see little to no difference, if not even a decrease in their school tax. For the agricultural landowners, that tax is guaranteed to increase and in some cases double or more.

What I don’t understand is, if the people who voted “yes” want a new school, then why are they not willing to pay for more of it themselves? They did not want to increase their taxes to help pay for this school, yet they expect the rural area and outside landowners to significantly increase their taxes and just be OK with it?

Some of you will not agree with me. I just ask that you have a little more understanding for the people who grow your food, and please stop making the one comment I have been so disgusted with: “Well, if you don’t like it, then just sell your land.” For farmers, what they do is not just a job, it is their life.

This project could have had a different outcome, one that would have brought people together instead of dividing them. I do not believe it is too late, but time is running out. There have just been too many negative emotions flying around due to the way the information was delayed in reaching the public, and making voters and taxpayers feel like the issue was forced upon them.

I understand the numbers to remodel vs. build came back in favor of building new, and for most communities, that would have been fine. However, our community does not have the infrastructure or residential growth potential to support the nearly $20 million price tag or the steady increase of enrollment it needs to support a new building. And the mindset that businesses and residential growth will come because of a new school seems irresponsible. This project does not make sense for our community. That is why the opposition is so upset and the point that they have tried, and are still trying, to get across. We do not have a problem with paying our fair share. We just felt there could have been a more equal opportunity for us to be a part of the process from the very beginning and help come up with a solution that could have prevented the loss of friendships and local business partnerships.

Nordick is a member of the new building committee, agricultural taxpayer, resident of the Rothsay School District and mother of four (three of whom open enroll outside the district and one who will start preschool in a couple of years).