Zumbrota referendum

MaryAnne Moechnig has made yard signs expressing her opinion on the Zumbrota school referendum. (Brian Todd/btodd@postbulletin.com)

ZUMBROTA — Opponents of the Zumbrota-Mazeppa bond referendum have one thing in common: They'd like to see the district move toward Zumbrota, leaving Mazeppa behind.

"I hate to say it, but we have to close Mazeppa," said MaryAnne Moechnig, who lives a few doors down from the high school on Mill Street. "If you stick $14 million into that Mazeppa site, how are they going to walk away from that?"

Moechnig, whose three children were all Zumbrota High School graduates —that was before Zumbrota consolidated with Mazeppa in 1993-1994 — said investing more money, adding to the building infrastructure in Mazeppa is a decision she can't support. 

And she's not alone. 

Peter Grimsrud, publisher of the Zumbrota New-Record, has found himself a leading voice in the "Vote No" movement. Grimsrud has opined against the bond referendum in his newspaper. And, his free shopper newspaper that's delivered to every household in the district carried a flier paid for by the Vote No Committee.

Grimsrud, whose father is a member of the Vote No Committee, said he's been to a meeting of the group. While he agrees with their sentiment, he wished the group had more of a consensus beyond just being against the referendum. 

"The only consensus is that no one there wants to add onto Mazeppa," Peter Grimsrud said, referring to the stances taken among the Vote No Committee. "The future is either solely in Zumbrota or in Zumbrota utilizing the existing site in Mazeppa."

What yes means

The Z-M school board sees it differently, said Jean Roth, school board chairwoman. For starters, Roth said, the task force that developed the bond referendum proposal never considered eliminating Mazeppa's school building. 

"A lot of that goes back to respect for that history when the two school districts joined," she said. "Even aside from that, the building in Mazeppa is viable. There's a lot of life left in that structure, so it's prudent to stick with it and expand on that site."

Of the district's three schools covering kindergarten through 12th grade, the Z-M Elementary School is located in Mazeppa, housing third- through sixth-grade students.

The work done at the elementary school, if the referendum passes, includes relocating the main office and creating a secure entrance, new classrooms and special education space, remodeling existing classrooms, bathrooms, locker rooms and the library, expanding the food services and kitchen, and turning the old gymnasium into a cafeteria. 

A second question on the referendum would add a new gym at the Mazeppa site.

Yes in Zumbrota

The Zumbrota buildings would get their own expansions and renovations if the bond passes. 

Both the Z-M Primary School and the Z-M Middle/High School would get more classroom space, secure entrances, office remodeling, and reconfigured drop-off/parking areas. The middle/high school would see an expansion and remodeling of the career and technical education area, including a new metals/project lab, and a family and consumer science space. 

If fact, said Z-M Superintendent Mike Harvey, the spending division between the two communities is roughly equivalent to the percentage of each community that makes up the district's population. 

"I went to the mayor of Zumbrota and asked, when was the last time a $30 million project was done in this community," Harvey said. "Probably never. We've lost sight of that."

What no means in Mazeppa

Harvey said he's heard several complaints from the Vote No crowd, including that it's unfair to bus Zumbrota students to Mazeppa for the four years they attend the elementary school. But the alternative is to bus all students from Mazeppa to Zumbrota for 13 years, something that costs the same as the current arrangement.

What he does know is that the plan the Vote No Committee supports – K through 12 classes entirely in Zumbrota – would mean eventually closing the Mazeppa site, something surveys of residents routinely reject. 

Closing Mazeppa, he said, would have to be put to the ballot, and that would immediately get about 30 percent of the district in opposition, the 30 percent that lives in and around Mazeppa. Add to that, any plan to close Mazeppa would include a huge expenditure in Zumbrota – possibly a whole new K-12 facility – and Harvey said there's just no support for such a plan. 

In fact, in the last survey, of the 850 or so respondents only 44 supported a new facility being built. That, Harvey said, wouldn't be a $46 million referendum, but likely $100 million. 

"Plus, to put 1,200, 1,300 kids on one mega campus changes the culture of the school," he said. 

Finally, Harvey said, like in other towns that have seen their schools close, closing the Mazeppa campus would be a gut-punch to that city in everything from businesses to property values. 

That, Moechnig said, shouldn't be a factor in any decision. "That's not the job of the schools," she said. 

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