Washington County voters say renewals OK, increases not

  • Article by: DAAREL BURNETTE II , Star Tribune
  • Updated: November 12, 2011 - 10:44 PM

Levy appeals in several districts were successful, but Stillwater's request to increase its levy, improve technology and make building improvements failed.

School administrators in four of the five Washington County districts said they can get back to the job of raising student achievement now that their levies were renewed Tuesday. The approvals will bring millions of dollars to the districts in the coming years.

The news wasn't so good for Stillwater, however, where all three of the district's requests to increase its levy, upgrade its facilities and provide students with more technology failed.

Stillwater Superintendent Corey Lunn said the district now will have to look at cutting up to $10 million from its budget.

"Voters provided us with a clear message," Lunn said. "As a school district we must find ways to do more with less, become more efficient, and change the way we do business."

What happened in Washington County was characteristic of what happened across the state Tuesday, as the majority of the 120 schools asking for levy renewals were successful, while few that sought levy increases were successful.

The Stillwater district had sought to replace its existing operating levy, which raises $996.57 per student, with a new levy of $1,465 per student. The current levy expires in 2014. The new levy would have been in effect for seven years. But 52 percent of those voting opposed the request.

The district also asked for a new technology levy to provide students with such learning aids as iPods or online textbooks. The levy would have provided the district $982,300 a year for seven years; 53 percent of those casting ballots voted no.

A third question asked voters to approve an $18.1 million bond that would be used to create five new science labs and two science, technology, engineering and math fabrication labs at Stillwater High School, as well as expand the four existing science labs and renovate an existing classroom into a science, technology, engineering and math fabrication lab at Oak-Land Junior High School. Again, 52 percent of the voters said no.

"We brought our request to the community this fall knowing times are tough and many residents are feeling the strain of an unstable economy," Lunn said. "Yet we also knew our schools' financial needs were real and that it was our duty to bring our students needs to the community for a vote. I have no doubt our community values education."

Forest Lake will receive about $6 million, or $725 per student, each year through 2016 because a levy request was approved Tuesday by 63 percent of those voting.

"I think the feeling in the district is that we've been moving forward, even though it's been a time of fiscal austerity," said board member Rob Rapheal. "Getting this levy behind us gives us a chance to get back to working on moving the district forward. If this thing had failed, you have to switch your priorities to cutting."

North St. Paul-Maplewood-Oakdale School District will receive $833 per student, or around $10 million a year for the next 10 years, thanks to the renewal of its levy Tuesday with 68 percent approval.

The district had gone to voters a year early to get the levy renewed.

"We are just thrilled," said Superintendent Patty Phillips. "It's a tough economic climate right now. To have the overwhelming support from the community is reassuring and wonderful. We have a clearly articulated roadmap. The No. 1 goal is to keep our focus on our students' achievement and closing the learning gap."

Mahtomedi was successful in winning approval of its technology levy, which will provide the district with $614,409 a year for the next decade; 57 percent of those voting approved the measure.

"This means that the community has expressed their appreciation and admiration for the work you do in utilizing technology to accelerate learning," Superintendent Mark Larson said. "They are very supportive of our efforts to continue the excellence and they see how important technology is in teaching and learning."

White Bear Lake also won approval from 73 percent of those voting to extend for six years its $1,580-per-pupil operating levy due to expire in 2012.

"We're very excited," said White Bear Lake school board President Lori Swanson. "We just greatly appreciate the support of the community. They clearly value their investment in the White Bear Area District.

"One of the main messages we sent to the community was that a renewal would allow the district to maintain the quality programming we have and continue to keep the promises we made in 2007. We've had great improvements in student achievement. That achievement is proof of the dedication of the school district to the community and its students."

Daarel Burnette II • 651-735-1695 Twitter: @DaarelStrib

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