Voters in the South Washington County School District will soon decide whether to approve $463 million to dramatically expand capacity at schools in the Eastern Metro District, as officials predict enrollment will rise more than 18% over the course of the year. next decade.
If approved, it would be the largest school bond referendum in state history, eclipsing the record set by White Bear Lake voters in 2019.
It’s one of 15 obligation measures on the ballot across the state when many voters cast their ballots in the Aug. 9 primary election.
Other districts with bond referendums include St. Louis Park, where officials are proposing a $135 million package to upgrade several schools, and Round Lake-Brewster, where district leaders are asking for $30 million to build a new K-12 school.
In total, school districts across the state are asking voters for a total of $975 million to fund various construction projects during the primary. Greg Abbott, spokesman for the Minnesota School Boards Association, said it was a record number of bond measures in a primary ballot, and he attributed it to redistricting which made more difficult for districts to pursue referenda earlier in the year.
The South Washington County measure would pay for the construction of two new elementary schools and add new classrooms to nearly every other building in the district.
“We know this is a very big ask for our community,” Superintendent Julie Nielsen said.
The tax bill of an average house in the neighborhood, assessed at $300,000, would increase by $305 per year. Dan Pyan, the district’s chief financial officer, said ratepayers would pay for the improvements over a period of about 20 years.
The boundaries of the eastern metropolitan district encompass seven communities, including Cottage Grove, Newport and Woodbury.
District leaders say the sum and scope of the ballot measure is necessary because of the failure of a $47 million referendum on the 2015 ballot that aimed to tackle overcrowding in elementary schools and secondary schools in South Washington County.
“These needs have only gotten worse,” Nielsen said.
Four elementary schools are in desperate need of additional bathrooms, she said. Although Royal Oaks, Pullman, Hillside and Armstrong have been modified to accommodate more students over the years, between 320 and 490 students still share a toilet in those buildings, according to district planning documents.
Officials say 8,000 residential properties will come online within district boundaries over the next 10 years, adding about 3,500 students to one of the largest districts in the state. Schools in South Washington County enrolled nearly 19,000 students last year, according to state records.
The influx of new residents will further strain building capacity and double the number of students living within the boundaries of at least three elementary schools, according to the district’s forecast.
The bond would provide about $195 million for projects in the district’s 15 elementary schools. Several buildings would add classrooms and cafeterias and increase the area available for special education and early childhood education programs.
District officials also plan to close Newport Elementary and send its students to three nearby schools — an idea that has caught the attention of the community. Parents and students filled a school board meeting in May to protest the proposal, arguing the move would negatively impact children at the district’s most diverse school.
The bond would also provide $59 million in college upgrades.
District officials want to add enough classroom space to accommodate about 1,400 students at each of South Washington County’s four middle schools. The capacity of Cottage Grove, Lake and Woodbury colleges is about 1,200. Oltman, which opened in 2018 and is nearing capacity, holds about 1,000.
High school upgrades make up about $160 million of the proposed obligation, primarily to add capacity in East Ridge, as officials expect enrollment within its boundaries to increase in coming years. The school is already overcapacitated by more than 200 students, according to district figures.
Officials also want to renovate Crestview Elementary to merge South Washington County’s two alternative high school programs and house them there.
If voters reject the measure, district leaders say they will go back to the drawing board and come back with a slimmer claim in 2023.
“We know we have extreme overpopulation and we need to find an answer,” Nielsen said.
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