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History of the Referendum
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Letter from Superintendent

10 months ago

Welcome to the Waterville-Elysian-Morristown referendum website. This site offers an opportunity to learn the details of the upcoming November 6 referendum proposal to see what issues we are facing at WEM and how we want to address them.

This proposal is a direct result of a long process that involved members of all of our communities to look at facility issues and address them head on. We are grateful for the participation of these folks who helped us prioritize the needs and choose the most cost-effective solution that will bring our facilities up to current standards and prepare them for many more years of service.

This proposal is impactful. It will help us to better serve our students and address these needs before they continue to get worse. I encourage you to review this site for information and become an informed voter. The WEM community has historically stuck together to get things done and that is what we aim to accomplish with this referendum. Please feel free to reach out with any questions you may have directly and join us at our public meeting events.


Joel Whitehurst, Superintendent


Election Information

10 months ago

Where to Vote

Polls will be open Nov 6 - election day - from 7:00 a.m. - 8:00 p.m. Find your polling place on the Minnesota Secretary of State website. Specific county  information is below.

Voters in mail in ballot precincts will get a ballot mailed to them.

Early and Absentee Voting

Any voter can vote via absentee and early voting for any reason. Absentee ballots can be requested online or by contacting your county office. Specific county information is below.


Blue Earth County

Any registered voter can vote by absentee ballot prior to Election Day.


Waseca County

Absentee voting begins on Friday, September 21.  Ballots may be requested at the County Auditor’s Office located in the Waseca County Courthouse.


Le Sueur County

Absentee voting has started and will continue thru 5:00 p.m. on Monday, November 5.  Voters can apply online for a ballot to be sent to them, fill out the application form and mail it to the County, once received a ballot will be mailed to them or come in to the courthouse and vote. 


Rice County

Absentee voting begins on Friday, September 21 and ends at 5:00 pm on Monday, November 5.

Voters may receive an absentee ballot by completing an absentee ballot application:

Phone: 507-332-6104; 507-645-9576 (Northfield); 507-744-5185 (Lonsdale)

Mail or in-person

Property Tax & Elections Department

320 3rd Street N.W.

Faribault, MN  55021



Property Tax & Elections Department

320 3rd Street N.W.

Faribault, MN

Hours:  Monday – Friday; 8:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m.


Northfield City Hall

801 Washington Street

Northfield, MN

Hours:  Monday – Friday; 8:00 a.m. – 4:30 p.m.

Ballot Language

The text of the ballot question is as follows:

School District Question 1

Approval of School District Bond Issue

Shall the school board of Independent School District No. 2143 (Waterville-Elysian-Morristown) be authorized to issue its general obligation school building bonds in an amount not to exceed $19,300,000 to provide funds for the acquisition and betterment of school sites and facilities,   including the construction and installation of security, health and safety, fire protection and ADA accessibility improvements; the construction and installation of mechanical, HVAC and electrical infrastructure improvements; the construction of various space improvements at the elementary school including the construction and equipping of a classroom addition; and the construction of various space improvements at the high school including the renovation, repair, remodeling, refurbishing and upgrading of science, career and tech classrooms?


This is an image of what the ballot question will look like:

Why Now?

10 months ago

We are facing many facility issues that need to be addressed. Residents of our communities asked the district to address inadequacies in a timely manner, and costs will only continue to increase due to inflation. This proposal is both cost-effective and impactful in meeting student needs, equipping our facilities for modern educational needs, and preparing our district for future success.

  • Facility deficiencies aren’t just going to go away – sections needing upgrades were built during the Eisenhower administration nearly 70 years ago and aren’t compliant with current code. Security and safety are issues.
  • Kids are impacted daily – we are simply out of space which means student opportunities for STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering & Math), art, band, phy. ed., and other academics are not staying competitive.
  • Competition from neighboring districts is fierce – facilities updates in Cleveland, JWP, Tri-City United, and Waseca could draw our students away to other districts. Even though this year’s enrollment is up slightly, we already lose about 100 students per year to other districts – facilities no doubt play a part. At $6,500 per student, that’s a $650,000 loss per year to the district.
  • Our heritage is at stake all our communities’ existence and the success of our schools are dependent upon each other – numerous national studies show property values increase near good schools; numerous Minnesota studies show decline in rural populations when schools close.
  • Voters asked the district to try again – 58% of residents surveyed support a new referendum
  • Ag2School tax credit is in place – making the proposal more equitable for all residents

"Our average building age is older than any surrounding district and 16 years older than the state average. The high school was built during the Great Depression. Some of our heating boilers were built during the Eisenhower administration. Our kids are impacted daily by deficient infrastructure. This limits students’ ability to learn effectively."

Rachel Androli, School Board Director

What is the Plan?

10 months ago

The plan is to update our facilities both behind the scenes and in the classroom. Everything from heating and cooling, safety and security, code compliance, and of course academics are involved in this proposal.

Heating and Cooling Systems

  • It’s not sexy but it’s time for our old boilers (some from the 1950’s!), piping and classroom air exchangers to be replaced with modern, efficient heating and cooling systems at all buildings to provide improved air flow and temperature control.


  • All elementary school classrooms will be updated.
  • Significant upgrades will be made to high school science classrooms and labs, and career and technical education shops to create additional space and provide equipment for 21st century instruction.
  • Four new classrooms will be added to increase space for pre-school and elementary classes.

Safety and Security

  • At each school entrance: new drop-off lanes to separate car and bus traffic and keep children out of the path of vehicles.
  • New secure entry ways.
  • New security monitoring and fire alert systems.

ADA Code Compliance

  • At the high school, ADA accessible public restrooms will be built near the gym.
  • At both the middle school and high school accessible restrooms and changing rooms will be built to bring us up to code.

Plan Details

10 months ago

The new plan addresses heating and cooling systems, academics, safety and security, and ADA compliance issues, which were all rated as priorities by community members in our survey.

Here are more resources so you can see just exactly where work is being done, and how it has been budgeted.

High School/Elementary School Floor Plan

Middle School Floor Plan

Project Budget


10 months ago

Why not build a new school?

According to our community survey, community members have strong feelings on both sides of this issue. Many see the efficiency and opportunity for greater collaboration of consolidating our students in one building. In addition, they see the current facilities as too old to repair. On the other side, and this was a majority, many people believe the facilities are salvageable. They also see the value of schools in Waterville and Morristown. And they see renovations as more cost effective than building a new school. The school board chose to listen to the majority and chose the renovation plan.

I don’t have any students in the district. I am on a fixed income. Why should I support these levies?

Education is the first step to an effective workforce. What students learn today could fuel the Waterville-Elysian-Morristown community’s economy tomorrow. Our district provides students with opportunities to explore different career paths and prepare for the work they’re passionate about as soon as possible. The bond levy would provide for a safe, secure, more comfortable learning environment with adequate space for early learners and career and technical programming.


Is there a high cost to farmers?

State law requires a school district operating levy on the fair market value of homes and businesses, and on one acre of land surrounding a farm homestead. State law requires a school district bond levy on the fair market value of home, businesses and total farm property. However, the new School Building Bond Agricultural Credit (AG2School) pays 40% of taxes specific to school bond payments on ag land. Taxes are automatically decreased by 40% on the Property Tax Statement of any ag landowner.

It is important to note that the Ag2School tax credit is permanent law in Minnesota – it has no automatic sunset date. It would take specific legislative action, and the governor’s approval, to revoke this tax credit. This tax reform is a commitment that we all stand by for Greater Minnesota School Districts.

by Senator Julie Rosen, (R), District 23

Where can I get property tax information?

Contact your county assessor's office at the numbers found on our Election Information page.

Can I deduct the taxes paid on my State and Federal Income Taxes?

If you itemize deductions for federal income taxes, you may deduct all property taxes paid.


What is a Levy? Bond?

Levies are for learning; bonds are for buildings.

An operating levy is for funds that the district uses to run and operate its schools. Levies are for running the educational programs at the school and funds go to the district’s general fund.

Bond levies are for funds that the school district uses for new construction, updates to existing facilities, and other additions to school properties.

What Will it Cost Me?

10 months ago

The district strives to manage taxpayer dollars wisely; our current ag, business and residential school property taxes are lower than all, but one neighboring school district, and significantly less than the state average. We are required by law to hold an election to raise funds for building and maintenance needs. This plan was proposed after consulting with members of all three of our communities and involved a long process to address only the most vital needs of our facilities.

Visit the online tax calculator to find your tax impact.

The new School Building Bond Agricultural Credit (AG2School) the Ag2School Credit pays 40% of taxes specific to School Bond payments on Ag Land. Taxes are automatically decreased by 40% on the Property Tax Statement of any Ag landowner.

It is important to note that the Ag2School tax credit is permanent law in Minnesota – it has no automatic sunset date. It would take specific legislative action, and the governor’s approval, to revoke this tax credit. This tax reform is a commitment that we all stand by for Greater Minnesota School Districts.

by Senator Julie Rosen

What was the Process?

10 months ago

The school district used results from a spring 2018 community survey to create a new proposal. Community members from all three communities took part in the process and provided feedback on this referendum proposal - there were 654 total responses to this statistically valid scientific poll. The needs addressed by this proposal are not going away and the district and the facilities committee collaborated to find the most cost-effective solution that addresses building needs.


Response to Letter to Editor

10 months ago

A recent letter to the editor brought up a number of points that I would like to respond to.

  1. The letter writer is correct, WEM will not close its doors if the referendum does not pass, we will continue to provide high quality education for our students. Nearing the end of 15 years on the school board, I can say we have never talked about closing nor threatened closing our schools. However, facilities don’t last forever, and they must be maintained.

  2. The community survey we conducted last spring is a statistically valid, scientific survey conducted by a reputable consultant. It is representative of the overall population’s opinions. People told us what items they would support, and what price tag they were willing to support. We listened to resident’s opinions when creating this plan. Written comments were shared with the board but delayed so private data could be redacted.

  3. In all of our surveys residents tell us they want more information.  School board members and administrators are all very busy so we chose to hire a communication firm to help us get information out to residents.  The company we hired recently worked with Cleveland and came highly recommended.

  4. There are many reasons why adding four preschool classrooms to the elementary school makes more sense than using the Elysian School. One reason is that we have a great relationship with Tri-Valley Headstart who we lease the Elysian building to for roughly $80,000 per year. Over 20 years that is $1.6 million of revenue vs. the elementary addition expense of $2.2 million.

  5. The 40% ag tax credit on school building bonds is a law with no sunset date. While it is correct that it is not guaranteed it would take specific action by the legislature and governor to repeal.  The law had bi-partisan legislative support.

  6. The 10-year enrollment forecast does predict decline – of only ten students per year. This year we saw a 4% increase. We feel that our enrollment is stabilizing and has potential for slow growth because our education statistics, from graduation rates to state test scores are stronger than our neighbors. But they have better facilities. Investment in our facilities will keep resident students enrolled in our district.

  7. The letter writer is correct that we did not investigate modular classrooms, the reason being that the majority of the board did not believe that was the direction we should go. We are striving to keep students safe by building secure entrances and ensuring other doors are closed, locked and monitored – portables increase security risks. Portables are a challenge to keep warm and cool. Portables require students to come inside to use restroom facilities, taking time away from instruction.

Please reach out if you have any other questions or concerns

Tom Little

Board Chair


What Parents, Staff, and Neighbors Have to Say

10 months ago

Strong Schools. Strong Communities

A school brings together the community for common interests, togetherness, team building, setting common goals, and enhanced relationships. A school brings jobs, leadership, a place where kids and parents can learn and grow as a community rather than individually. I love our WEM community.

Sabrina Frodl, Parent

Our schools are a necessity for our communities. It’s about creating desirable neighborhoods and having the right kind of community. Schools bring that to a town.

Ryan Knish, Business Owner and Parent

The school is a unifying aspect of our community. We gather to support and celebrate our youth and parents connect with one another. In addition, having a school within our WEM community positively impacts property values, business growth and supports a strong future for our towns.

Brenda Heuss, Parent

This building referendum is about providing a safe, quality environment conducive to learning.  As a graduate and now a parent of students in the district, I am committed to seeing WEM strong. I am proud of our students, our schools, and our communities!  I am extremely thankful for the generations before me that said “Yes” to education. Several years ago a colleague of mine encouraged me with these words, 'physical possessions will come and go, but no one can ever take away your education'.

Shannon (James) Kuball, Alumni, Parent, Community Member, Therapist, and Farmer

My husband and I moved to this community so we could have our children enrolled in smaller schools that focused on the individual student versus having them lost in the classroom. Having our child enrolled in WEM has been a fantastic experience for him and he has mentioned several times not wanting to move if it meant leaving his school.  A strong educational foundation is so important for our children and for a growing community.

Heidi Kalbow, Parent

Strong schools and strong communities go hand in hand. We teach students to have pride in their schools and their communities, through our use of BUCS PRIDE. In the aftermath of recent storms our students stepped out to lend a helping hand to our communities.

Anna Skidmore, Teacher and Parent

Building Age

Because of my work, I am very familiar with the facilities infrastructure needs. Our schools are in dire need of mechanical system renovations. The overall majority of these systems were installed in 1971 and several are older than that. Sourcing needed repair parts for these systems is incredibly challenging.

Jim Hilpipre, Businessman and Parent

It’s important to understand the lifespan of things. Everything cannot be maintained to last forever.

Ryan Knish, Business Owner and Parent

Just like most people are not relying on a 40-plus year-old vehicle for their everyday transportation – the school cannot be expected to rely on outdated systems for their everyday needs.

Jim Hilpipre, Businessman and Parent

Teaching has changed since our facilities were built. Public schools are called to provide learning opportunities for students of all ages, regardless of their abilities or interests. Our special education classrooms, as well as our career/technical education and science education spaces at WEM, are simply not serving our students as they should.

Lori (Hermel) DeMars, Alumni and Parent

The mechanical issues are not going away and are only compounding, costing all of us unnecessary expenses to keep a comfortable and healthy environment for our students.

Jim Hilpipre, Businessman and Parent

Our average building age is older than any surrounding district and 16 years older than the state average. The high school was built during the Great Depression. Some of our heating boilers were built during the Truman administration. Our kids are impacted daily by deficient infrastructure. This limits students’ ability to learn effectively.

Rachel Androli, School Board Director

Small Class Sizes

We are blessed to have a school within our small communities. Our children have the opportunity to connect with teachers due to small class sizes, try a variety of activities and find their passion rather than get lost in a sea of students.

Brenda Heuss, Parent


It is important to note that the Ag2School tax credit is permanent law in Minnesota – it has no automatic sunset date. It would take specific legislative action, and the governor’s approval, to revoke this tax credit. This tax reform is a commitment that we all stand by for Greater Minnesota School Districts.

Julie Rosen, Senator (R), District 23

Safety & Security

I do not ever want to receive a phone call or hear on the news that my child's safety is at risk. If a student isn't safe at school - where they are supposed to feel safe?

Heidi Kalbow, Parent

News and Events

10 months ago


We are happy to be hosting public meetings to provide a presentation and information on the facility needs of our district. Please join us at one of these meetings to get your questions answered. Thank you for taking advantage of these opportunities to get more information.

  • Oct. 9, 5:30 p.m., Waterville auditorium
  • Oct.10, 7 p.m., Elysian ALC library/media center
  • Oct. 11, 7 p.m. Morristown cafeteria



Waterville-Elysian-Morristown schools to hold $19 million referendum

Mankato Free Press

August 21, 2018 -  Voters in the Waterville-Elysian-Morristown School District will decide in November whether to raise their taxes to fund building upgrades at both the district's schools.

The WEM School Board decided last week to put a $19.3 million bond request on the ballot.

Nearly half of the dollars would go to maintenance projects. More than $2 million would fund a small addition for the youngest learners at the Waterville school, nearly $3 million would got to classroom updates in Waterville and nearly $2 million is targeted for security improvements at both schools.

Supt. Joel Whitehurst said the request won't accomplish every project on the district's facilities wish list but includes the top priorities.

If approved, taxes on a residential property valued at $200,000 would increase by a $286 per year for 20 years, according to district estimates. For a $500,000 commercial property, taxes would increase $792 annually. A farmer with a homestead and an agriculture land value of $6,000 per acre would pay an additional $5.70 per acre.

At the school in Waterville, which is home to the district's preschool, elementary school and high school, more than $15 million worth of projects are proposed.

An addition with four new preschool and elementary classrooms and two bathrooms is planned. The existing elementary school wings would be remodeled.

High school science classrooms and the agriculture and career and technical shops also would be renovated.

New secure entrances would be built — one for the high school and one for the preschool and elementary school. Other safety and security improvements would include creating a student drop-off lane separate from the bus lane.

Spaces would be remodeled to create bathrooms and locker rooms that comply with Americans with Disabilities Act access guidelines.

The planned maintenance projects all involve the building's heating and cooling systems.

School Board member Jeff Stangler said he cast the only vote against holding a referendum because he doesn't believe the $2.1 million building addition is needed. Enrollment is declining overall and a temporary annex would be a more cost-effective solution to accommodate any blips in enrollment, he said.

Stangler said he supports all of the other proposed building improvements.

Whitehurst said the expansion also would allow the district to consolidate preschool and elementary classes into the same area of the building.

The $4 million in work planned at the middle school in Morristown includes safety and accessibility improvements and maintenance projects.

A new secure entrance and a separated car drop-off lane are proposed. The art room would move to an underutilized storage area and the art room would become accessible bathrooms and a new accessible boys locker room.

Most of the funds spent in Morristown would be for heating and cooling system updates.

After three failed referendums in recent years, Whitehurst said district leaders decided to try again after conducting a community survey. The survey helped leadership set a budget of $20 million and set priorities for spending those dollars if they are rewarded, the superintendent said.

Over half of residents surveyed this spring said the district should pursue a referendum and a quarter were undecided. Over half said they'd prefer the district build a new school but less than half said they'd be willing to fund the estimated $55 million price tag. Nearly two-thirds of the resident respondents said they'd support a referendum of $20 million.

The district launched a webpage Tuesday with more information about the proposed improvements and estimated tax impacts. Community information meetings will be held in the fall, Whitehurst said.