Residents sue Orono schools, claim referendum not conducted correctly

  • Article by: PATRICE RELERFORD , Star Tribune
  • Updated: February 19, 2008 - 9:19 PM

They say the district was required to use mail-in ballots instead of a polling place. The measure passed on Feb. 12.

Seven Orono School District residents filed a lawsuit Tuesday alleging that the district's recent $39 million bond referendum should have been conducted by mail instead of at a polling place in the school district's main office.

The suit claims that the west-metro district's Feb. 12 vote violated a state law that requires any referendum not held on the Tuesday after the first Monday in November be carried out by mail, unless a district is in statutory operating debt.

Voters approved the $39 million in improvements to three of the district's four buildings by a vote of 1,845 to 1,713.

"We're certain we've done everything correctly," Superintendent Karen Orcutt said. "We're turning this over to our lawyers." She said the district's school board clerk had received a copy of the lawsuit after it was filed in Hennepin County District Court.

Erick G. Kaardal of Minneapolis-based Mohrman & Kaardal, said his clients and other district residents shouldn't have been forced to vote at one polling place during the off-season election.

"That [office] can be a long way for some residents," Kaardal said. "The real issue is whether they maximized participation in the referendum election."

Kaardal's clients, including Sherokee Ilse and Bruce Malby, both of Maple Plain, and five other unnamed plaintiffs, want a new election conducted by mail. No hearing date has been set, but Kaardal said the case should move quickly.

Minnesota Education Commissioner Alice Seagren had deemed Orono's referendum "educationally and economically advisable" in January.

Her staff reviewed paperwork the district submitted in December as part of a standard review process required before the vote.

Patrice Relerford • 612-673-4395

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