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Board seeks to buy temporary classrooms

PINE ISLAND — School officials voted Monday night to make a bid to buy the portable classrooms behind the district’s only building, which would eventually take lease payments off taxpayers’ shoulders.

The school board voted unanimously to ask that the state approve a lease-to-own option at $55,000 a year for the next four years. The deal between the school board and Plymouth-based Satellite Shelters would make Pine Island Schools owner of the three temporary classrooms in four years.

Pine Island signed up with Satellite six years ago because the district needed more space in its K-12 building but didn’t have the money to add on and didn’t have time to seek voter approval in a building referendum. The temporary buildings are used for three seventh grade classrooms and are starting to show signs of wear.

Taxpayers in Pine Island have been paying for the temporary building under a special levy, which goes straight to Satellite, rather than into the district’s general operating budget. On Monday, the board opted to buy, rather than re-sign with Satellite, because members wanted to lift that levy when the buildings are paid off.

"This makes no difference to the district," said Superintendent Chris Bates. "This is about doing what’s best for the community."


Pine Island taxpayers have spent about $560,000 on lease payments to Satellite in the last six years, and will have spent about $750,000 by the time it pays out the lease-to-own option, Bates said.

Board member Randy DePestel called the arrangement "ridiculous" and estimated the buildings are worth $250,000 at most. DePestel agreed with other members, however, that the board had little choice now.

The best plan, members agreed, would be to end the lease payments as soon as possible and try to stretch the use of the buildings as long as they can.

But the deal is far from done. Before Pine Island schools can move ahead with the deal, the Minnesota Department of Education must approve Pine Island’s lease-to-own plan.

Bates characterized the lease-to-own option as a loophole in school law that the Legislature might close during the next session.

"We need to act now with this," Bates told the board.

Bates said he remains confident that the state will approve the plan. If officials balk at Pine Island, however, board member Jay Wobig suggested the school board consider buying the building

"If it’s that big of a problem," Wobig asked, "why don’t we just cut a check right now?"

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