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Voters approve $1.2 billion in school bonding

Brian Johnson//November 4, 2015

Voters approve $1.2 billion in school bonding

Brian Johnson//November 4, 2015

Voters approved capital bond levies for nearly $1.2 billion worth of improvements in school districts throughout the state Tuesday, kick-starting projects from security upgrades to ground-up construction.

The Rosemount-Apple-Valley-Eagan district was one of the big winners, as voters approved a $180 million bond referendum that will pay for security improvements, a new elementary school, technology improvements and more.

The biggest rejection came in the St. Cloud district, where voters turned down a $167 million request for a new school, renovations, technology, and maintenance projects.

In all, roughly $2 billion worth of school bond referendums went before voters Tuesday in a record year for capital project requests. Much of the demand was driven by free all-day kindergarten, the potential for state-funded preschool, and security needs.

Voters in 23 school districts approved at least one capital levy, while requests failed in 14 districts, according to the Minnesota School Boards Association. The combined value of the failed requests is about $892 million.

Besides the Rosemount-Apple Valley-Eagan district, other winners included Eastern Carver County ($66.7 million), Farmington ($45.32 million), Delano ($65 million in two questions), Minnetonka ($53 million) and Moorhead ($78.28 million).

Voters rejected bond levies for capital projects in Detroit Lakes ($83.6 million in three questions), Grand Rapids ($80.135 million), Maple River ($47.7 million), and other districts.

South Washington County got a split decision. By just 19 votes, voters approved $96 million for building additions and other upgrades, but they rejected a $46.5 million request for additional high school space.

Forest Lake won approval of a $143 million referendum for projects ranging from building repairs to security upgrades, but failed to get enough support for high school track and art center upgrades in an $18 million second question.

Tony Taschner, spokesman for the Rosemount-Apple Valley-Eagan district, said the newly approved $180 million referendum will pay for a new elementary school and projects related to security, technology and classroom space.

One of the first priorities is the new school, which will relieve overcrowding. The district hasn’t selected a specific location, but the school will serve the growing southern and eastern portions of the district and be ready for the 2017-18 school year, Taschner said.

Voters gave a thumbs-up to the spending by more than a two-to-one margin. An average home in the district will see its taxes go up by about $12 a month as a result, Taschner said.

“It’s not an easy thing to go to voters and ask them to increase their taxes,” Taschner said. “But it is something school districts have to do quite routinely for capital projects.”

The district worked with Wold Architects and Engineers in St. Paul on its plans.

School officials involved the community in the planning process leading up to the vote, and “there really wasn’t much of a pushback in terms of what we were asking for or the cost,” Taschner said.

The mood wasn’t as festive in the St. Cloud district. According to unofficial results, the district’s $167 million referendum was defeated by an 8,460 to 7,393 vote.

“Things worked out differently today than was hoped, but everything is a teachable moment,” Willie Jett, superintendent of the St. Cloud Area School District 742, said in a statement. “The administration and the board will need to reconvene with the community, listen to your input and then re-examine both our referendum plan and its implementation to determine where we can be better and stronger for the next vote.”

Earlier this year, voters approved major capital bond referendums in Edina ($125 million), Shakopee ($102.5 million), Stillwater ($97.5 million) and other districts.

A complete list of the school referendum results is available here.

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