A Washington County judge has denied a petition asking that the Stillwater school district return a controversial but successful 2015 bond referendum to voters.
Stillwater parent Melissa Douglas, in her petition, said district officials misled voters into thinking they were paying for improvements for all elementary schools when they promoted a $97.5 million bond referendum last year.
After voters approved the referendum, the school board voted to close three of the schools.
“It really damages the public trust and ultimately that’s what the bond issues are about,” Douglas said Tuesday. She said that she will appeal the ruling.
Judge John McBride agreed with the school district that the only limit to the use of bond funds was the exact ballot language that voters saw. Published notices, mailings and other promotions for the referendum were “campaign promises” that aren’t binding, he wrote.
He added that Minnesota laws “do not require the district to make improvement to facilities that are being closed and projects that have been abandoned.”
McBride also said state law doesn’t require the district to submit the question to voters, as Douglas had asked.
“He took a very narrow legalistic view of the issue. We feel that’s very bad for the voters,” Douglas said. “It gives unprecedented discretion to school boards and administrators never envisioned by the Legislature and strips that authority from taxpayers and voters.”
In a statement issued by the school district, Superintendent Denise Pontrelli applauded McBride’s decision.
“A significant amount of district resources, both time and money, were spent in responding to the case,” she said. “We know this has been a difficult issue within our community, but we hope with this decision we can come back together to focus on our common purpose — our kids.”
Two other lawsuits are pending against the Stillwater district over the closings.