Z-M Schools

Paraprofessional educator Tracy Nelson, right, works on writing and counting backwards with first-graders Elena Liffrig, middle, and Cavan Kennedy, bottom, outside their classroom as another class walks by at the Zumbrota-Mazeppa Primary School in Zumbrota.

ZUMBROTA — Monday will be back to the drawing board for Zumbrota-Mazeppa Public Schools.

On Tuesday, the district’s voters turned down a $49.95 million construction bond issue that would have renovated and added classroom space to all four district buildings.

“The needs don’t go away,” said Superintendent Mike Harvey. “We have to be back.”

Those needs are many. Aging buildings need to be renovated. There are districts, especially rural ones, across the state facing the same issue. But Z-M faces another problem, one some of its neighbors would love to have. The district is growing.

School Board Chairwoman Jean Roth said the district, as part of its development of the rejected $49.95 million plan, hired a demographer to look at the district’s future. The findings: Zumbrota-Mazeppa is growing to the point that, over the next 10 years, it could add an average of 23 students per grade level.

And while some districts look upon Z-M’s growing pains with envy — both the Red Wing and Winona school districts have had to sell old, unused school buildings due to declining enrollment — Harvey saw the failed bond issue as troubling.

“We’re going to do a survey of the voter rolls and find out why this happened,” he said, noting that, while the difference between the yeas and nays was about 8 percentage points, in terms of real votes, it appears much easier to flip the result. “About 90 votes is all you have to swing.”

The school board meets Monday at 7 p.m. at the Zumbrota-Mazeppa Middle/High School Media Center.

In the meantime, Harvey said, the district will move along, making do instead of making strides toward the way buildings serve education and the modern classroom.

That means students working on the floor in hallways on projects instead of collaborative workspaces. That means students in rows of desks learning the same way as they’ve done for more than a century.

“It’s all about how we’re doing education differently now,” he said. “It used to be the kids would all sit in the same classroom and get the same menu. Now, some do different things. It’s really about the different types of space you need today.”

And, of course, it’s about funding.

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Regional Reporter

Brian Todd is a 1997 graduate of Nebraska-Omaha. He covers Goodhue, Wabasha, Winona and Houston counties and writes a weekly column about the life of a reporter.

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