Staples-Motley voters deny another referendum, but taxes will still increase

Roughly 63% of voters disapproved of the $64.4 million referendum, which requested funds for renovations and expansions to the district's facilities.

Staples-Motley High School. Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch
Staples-Motley High School. Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch

Voters in the Staples-Motley School District rejected a bond referendum Tuesday, April 13, for the second time in three years.

The bond issue requested $64.4 million for renovations and expansions to the district’s middle/high school and elementary school. Funds would have gone toward addressing aging infrastructure, modernizing classroom and technical education spaces and improving accessibility and building security.

Unofficial vote totals Tuesday night stood at 910 voters in favor and 1,555 opposed.

“While we are disappointed in the result of this election, we respect the decision made by voters and thank everyone who took this opportunity to make their voice heard,” Superintendent Shane Tappe stated in a news release. “Our district will continue to provide our students with a high quality education, and we will continue to explore other ways to improve our facilities.”

RELATED: Staples-Motley takes another stab at bond referendum with April 13 vote
Under the referendum plan, the elementary school would have transitioned to accommodate grades pre-K through sixth, with the high school serving seventh through 12th grades. Renovations to both buildings would have addressed deferred maintenance needs, updated classrooms and improved building accessibility and safety.


Jackie Tyrrell, who lives north of Staples and has two children in the district, was disappointed with the results but even more frustrated she couldn’t do anything about it.

Though Tyrrell’s eighth and 11th grade sons go to Staples-Motley, she lives just barely over the district boundaries, putting her in the Verndale School District and meaning she was not able to vote Tuesday.

“It’s frustrating as a parent,” she said during a phone interview Wednesday, April 14. “I grew up here. I went to school in Staples and graduated from here. … And I couldn’t do anything about it.”

Moving forward, Tyrrell said the district needs to do everything it can to keep its buildings up and running and looking aesthetically pleasing for the sake of the community.

RELATED: Staples-Motley referendum: Frequently Asked Questions
“You want to have a nice looking school. You want things to be neat because then that makes your whole community thrive,” she said. “People are going to want to move here. You want it to look attractive, so I think that with them moving forward, they have to do what they can.”

Browerville resident and district mom Aly Twardowski had similar sentiments, writing in an email Wednesday that schools are the heart of their communities, and strong schools provide the framework for a vibrant community for everyone.

With the failed vote, the school board will begin implementing Plan B, which is a $14.5 million backup plan that does not require voter approval, as districts are allowed by state statute to levy a certain amount of money per student without voter approval. The funds will be used to address the district’s most-needed updates, like air quality, heating and roof updates. It will not address any classroom improvements or deferred maintenance needs.

“The challenges with our school buildings are not going away and will need to be addressed,” School Board Chair Bryan Winkels stated in a news release. “The school board prepared for this scenario by approving ‘Plan B.’ We will continue to work with our community as we move forward with that plan.”


Tappe said Wednesday he is not yet sure what the timeline will be for executing Plan B. It’s an issue the school board will have to talk about further.

Twardowski, who has a 2-year-old in the district’s child care program Little Cardinals Academy and a 6-year-old in kindergarten at Staples-Motley Elementary School, said Plan B is essentially just tossing the can down the road.

Plan B is still costing our residents significant tax investment while short-changing our kids,” she wrote in her email. “Our facilities are in desperate need of basic infrastructure investments and our technology offerings and in-classroom enhancements are sub-par compared to other area districts. Unfortunately, Plan B is a temporary high-cost option that doesn’t bring long-term solutions to our district or community.”

Under Plan B, residential property owners with homes valued at $125,000 will see an estimated property tax increase of $12.67 per month, or about $152 a year. Limited funding sources to make the smaller scale improvements mean the taxpayer investment only completes about 20% of the needs identified in district building assessments for about half the tax impact. Future and ongoing investments will be necessary to address facility needs, the district’s news release stated.

Going forward, Twardowski said she hopes school board leaders have the courage to operate within their full decision-making scope to ensure the best opportunities and highest quality education for all children.

“I also hope that all community members who voted ‘no’ may start to realize that school systems are anchor systems of small communities,” she wrote in her email. “For the Staples-Motley community, health care system, businesses and people to thrive, that means believing that our youth and school system can help shape and pave that path even if they don’t feel directly impacted by it now.”


On a post announcing the referendum’s rejection on the school district’s Facebook page Tuesday night, many residents voiced their disappointment, while others criticized the district for “foolish spending,” asking district leaders to focus more on students and using taxpayer money in a way that does not result in millions of dollars of deferred maintenance costs.

Despite the outcome, Tappe — who took over as superintendent in July 2019 — said during a phone interview Wednesday the district’s focus remains the same.

“There’s certainly disappointment, but at the same time we know where our focus needs to be, and that’s on our kids, and that’s where it’s going to stay,” he said.

Second rejection

Staples-Motley voters also rejected a 2019 referendum requesting $60 million for facility updates and an activities center.

Question 1, dealing with updates at the elementary, middle and high school facilities, garnered 2,072 votes in opposition, with 1,164 residents voting yes.

For Question 2, requesting a $10.45 million activities center, 2,147 voters opposed the measure, while 1,080 voted for it.


THERESA BOURKE may be reached at or 218-855-5860. Follow her on Twitter at .
Theresa Bourke started working at the Dispatch in July 2018, covering Brainerd city government and area education, including Brainerd Public Schools and Central Lakes College.
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