Communication was key in the passing and failing of two area school district referendums this week.

On Nov. 5, the Kenyon-Wanamingo and Zumbrota-Mazeppa School Districts were asking voters to support their respective referendums.

For K-W’s operating levy, the district will need to regroup and come up with a new plan.

For Z-M’s building projects, staff at last will begin the planning phases months after failing the first time around.

To gain better access to funds, the K-W district tried to pass a two-question, revoke-and-replace plan. The questions failed 515-378 and 551-342.

The first question would’ve revoked and replaced the current levy with a $460 per pupil amount. The second would have added $300 per pupil funding.

Superintendent K-W Jeff Pesta was surprised by the first question not passing, saying he had been “pretty confident.” The plan was common sense and low impact, according to Pesta.

Explaining the difference between an operating levy and building bond is difficult though. Most people whose attended listening sessions this fall were confused by the difference. After all, the district passed a building bond referendum just two years ago.

Being fiscally responsible was the goal, Pesta said. With the levy’s failure, Pesta said district leaders will have to look at future budgets to see where they can save. The goal is to avoid reductions that would directly affect students.

Going back to the voters in 2020 is a decision that will be made by the School Board. Next Tuesday the board will meet for canvassing the election and will perhaps decide when they might want to run it back.

In May, the Z-M School District was at a loss, having failed to pass a question $49.95 million referendum that people have spent more than a year planning out.

So the School Board and administration went back to figure out where they went wrong because the issues facing Z-M weren’t going away. This time, it passed.

In Superintendent Michael Harvey’s words: “Communication was the difference.”

The survey results showed voters still supported a referendum, but not at the March number they previously offered.

The district offered three questions to voters:

  • Question 1: $38.585 million, new additions, renovations and remodeling of all school sites.

  • Question 2: $3.35 million, a new gymnasium at the elementary school in Mazeppa.

  • Question 3: $4.945 million, a new gymnasium at the middle/high school in Zumbrota with upgrades to athletic fields, parking and accessibility.

Harvey said he had a good feeling about the first question passing, which had a tight 1,203-1,065 vote. Questions 2 and 3 were more “wishy-washy.” Those questions narrowly failed 1,149-1,097 and 1,270-975.

Since the other questions didn’t pass, district will now make due with what it has, Harvey said. The schools have operated with less space for years and they will be creative.

Even though the other questions didn’t pass, the district scored a major victory in the first question passing.

Harvey said the following day was a blur with many phone calls and emails coming in, with the district staff incredibly excited for the planning process to come.

Harvey thanked everyone’s work on passing the referendum. He appreciates all of the dialogue with voters over the last number of months who got them to this point.

The School Board will meet next Tuesday to canvass the election results.