Christopher Magan, Pioneer Press, November 4, 2015
Despite a few tough races in St. Paul’s suburbs, Minnesota school districts had another banner year at the ballot box Tuesday.
Statewide, 90 percent of the operating levy requests put before voters were approved, according to the Minnesota School Boards Association, the best success rate since the group began keeping track in the 1980s.
Also approved were more than 60 percent of proposed capital levies for learning supplies, building improvements or new schools, the organization said.
This year, a record number of capital levy requests from more than 60 district have been put on the ballot.
Altogether, voters OK’d $1.2 billion worth of capital projects Tuesday. So far this year, voters across Minnesota have supported nearly $2 billion worth of capital levies.
A few small, rural districts still have ballot questions to be decided before the end of the year. Election results are unofficial until they are certified by school leaders.
In the Twin Cities metro area, the Centennial and North St. Paul-Maplewood-Oakdale school districts had the toughests defeats. Voters overwhelmingly rejected their bids for new revenue for operations and capital expenses.
However, Centennial voters did support the renewal of an operating levy that brings the district $1.1 million annually.
District officials in Centennial and North St. Paul said budget cuts are now likely. School leaders will begin meeting with staff and community members to identify spending reductions for the 2016-17 school year.
“As a district, we are incredibly disappointed in yesterday’s outcome, as this funding is critical to our ability to maintain educational programs and support the learning needs of all students,” Christine Osorio, the North St. Paul superintendent, wrote Wednesday in a letter to parents.
One of the day’s closest races was in the South Washington County district, where a $96 million capital levy request passed by a margin of just 19 votes.
The district requested the levy to fund construction of a middle school and renovation of existing middle schools.
The margin of victory is slim enough that a recount could be requested.
Meanwhile, the Lakeville, Farmington and Rosemount-Apple Valley-Eagan districts had operating and capital levies pass by large margins.
Statewide turnout was tough to judge Wednesday because the Secretary of State’s office did not have complete results from some counties in Greater Minnesota. Not every county had local offices or ballot issues to be decided.
In the east metro, turnout varied. South Washington County schools saw nearly a quarter of eligible voters cast ballots, according to the Secretary of State. But in the Rosemount-Apple Valley-Eagan district, just 14 percent of voters turned out to decide a $180 million capital levy, the state’s largest.
In Minnesota, odd-year elections typically have low voter turnout because there are no statewide races on the ballot.
The more than 100 school levies placed before Minnesota voters this year follow a series of funding increases from state lawmakers. The Legislature has increased state education spending by more than $1 billion in the past two biennial budgets.
Christopher Magan can be reached at 651-228-5557. Follow him at twitter.com/chris_magan.