MAZEPPA-As a way to better inform the Zumbrota-Mazeppa community members, the district has held multiple listening sessions about the May 14 referendum vote.

The third session of four was held in Mazeppa in the small gym on May 1, with School Board members and faculty available to answer questions.

Superintendent Mike Harvey presented on the district's $49.95 million bond referendum request that would help repair the district's buildings. Improvements that would go toward long-term facility and deferred maintenance will help address issues in the present, but also put the district in a position to not have to return for a bond referendum for multiple decades.

The planning process has been in motion since 2016, according to Harvey. Discussions with community members, board members, teachers and students have helped the district put together the most effective, feasible, responsible plan they could muster.

Months ago, the district surveyed over 600 residents on what they think about the quality of the public school, if the district is meeting the learning needs, and if the buildings and facilities are meeting the community's needs.

Harvey pointed out that three topics were favorably viewed by community members, with safety and security, renovation of career and technical spaces, expansion of the special education spaces, and redesigning and adding classrooms at both sites being the most demand.

An addition of third grade classrooms, an auxiliary gym, and the redesign of almost every classroom is planned at the Mazeppa building. At the primary and middle-high school, the same concept is viewed, along with an expanded parking lot and drop-off area. Even the Cougar Care building would get three additional classrooms.

Harvey said they looked at a referendum that exceeded $110 million-just trying to exercise all of their options. Agreeing on a $49.95 million referendum was the best way to address needs for now and the future.

The tax impact on this plan, which can be checked by all Zumbrota-Mazeppa residents on the district's website through the tax calculator, is about $37 a month on a home valued at $190,000. That is the average home in the two towns.

The district has secured the Ag2School Tax Credit. The Ag2School Tax Credit will pay 40% of the overall debt for agricultural properties by the state.

Harvey pointed out that Zumbrota-Mazeppa has the lowest debt levy per pupil compared to eight nearby schools.

After the presentation concluded, school officials were open to questions.

One community member pointed out that she and her husband are retired and on a fixed income. The chances of an increase in taxes makes her concerned.

School Board member Jim Wendt pointed out that public education has always been this way. It's always needed the community to support the school and vice-versa.

Wendt said that his grandfather, his father, himself, and his children have all needed the help of the community, whether they had children in the district or not, to help keep the school afloat.

"You can't just worry about your kids," Wendt said. "It's everybody's kids. I've always said the reason we do this is because I want all kids to be the smartest kids they can possibly be."

Harvey said the meetings have been well attended and officials have appreciated the feedback thus far.

The final listening session will be 7 p.m. May 8 at the Zumbrota-Mazeppa Middle/High School Media Center.

For access to the presentation, tax calculator, and more referendum information, visit http://www.zmschools.us.