Been Raghavendran, Star Tribune, November 4, 2015
Operating levies to cover classroom and student costs were approved in 90 percent of the districts that had the levies on the ballot. It was the highest approval rate since 1997, when a record-high 86 percent of school district levies were approved, according to the Minnesota School Boards Association.
Capital project levies and building bonds didn’t fare as well. Voters approved them in 62 percent of the districts that sought them. In most cases, they were to pay for technology upgrades or building additions to accommodate all-day kindergarten.
This year, 65 districts have sought voter approval for bonds and capital project levies, and two more districts plan to do so before the end of the year. That beats last year’s record of 55, according to the School Boards Association.
Standout wins include the Rosemount-Apple Valley-Eagan, Eastern Carver County and Fridley school districts, where funds will be used to build new schools or upgrade current ones.
The North St. Paul-Maplewood-Oakdale district, however, was an outlier: Voters there vetoed both an operating levy and a capital projects levy.
Scott Croonquist, executive director of the Association of Metropolitan School Districts, said operating levies, which cover expenses across the district, are often easier to sell to voters than building bonds and capital projects levies that might target one school or area.
“Sometimes, I think voters’ parochial interests can affect their decision,” Croonquist said.
In the east metro, voters in the South Washington County School District passed an operating levy increase and a $96 million building bond for middle-school growth and construction, despite an aggressive campaign against it. A new middle school will open in fall 2018. Meanwhile, another $46.5 million bond failed.
In the southern suburbs, voters in the Rosemount-Apple Valley-Eagan district approved $180 million to pay for construction of an elementary school, several building additions and technology updates, among other things.
“There’s a lot of happy board members,” said Rob Duchscher, a Rosemount-Apple Valley-Eagan school board member.
There were gains in the north and west metro, too.
Construction of an elementary school will proceed in the Eastern Carver County district after voters approved an operating levy and a $66.7 million bond question.
The district — serving Chaska, Chanhassen, Carver and Victoria — is expanding by 100 to 150 students annually, said spokesman Brett Johnson. The new school for students in kindergarten through fifth grade is expected to open in Carver in fall 2017.
The bond also covers additions to two elementary schools, a pool at Pioneer Ridge Middle School and a multipurpose athletic facility at Chaska Middle School East.
“All four cities voted very strongly in favor of these referendums,” Johnson said.
In Fridley, more than 70 percent approved a levy increase and a $27.5 million building bond, even though many residents don’t have students in the school district, said spokeswoman Jael McLemore. The bond will go toward safety, security and technology upgrades at aging buildings.
Voters in the North St. Paul-Maplewood-Oakdale district quashed both an increase in the operating levy and a capital project technology levy.
Superintendent Christine Osorio said Wednesday that the district is reorganizing its plans.
The district hasn’t had a levy increase in 13 years, she said, and officials were hoping to upgrade technology.
Asked why the levies failed, she pointed to a large number of retirees on fixed incomes living in the district and suggested overall community satisfaction with the schools.
In South Washington County, officials were analyzing their mixed results Wednesday.
The failed bond would have paid for a variety of things, including more bathrooms at elementary schools, said Ron Kath, chairman of the South Washington County school board.
“[We] couldn’t be more ecstatic and excited that the community rallied around the education of our children in support of the referendum,” Kath said.
Star Tribune staff writer Erin Adler contributed to this report.