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Voters approve levy requests in four south metro districts

  • Article by: Erin Adler
  • Star Tribune
  • November 10, 2013 - 9:49 PM

Across four very different south metro districts, voters said “yes” to levy requests last Tuesday, three by sizable margins and one by just 130 votes.

Rosemount-Apple Valley-Eagan and Lakeville both easily passed requests for additional operating levy funds.

In Rosemount-Apple Valley-Eagan, 67 percent of voters approved replacing a $20 million existing levy with a $30 million measure, amounting to an extra $375 per pupil for 10 years. Meanwhile, 68 percent of Lakeville voters approved a new, $5.6 million levy request, generating an additional $540 per pupil.

In Inver Grove Heights, a $24.75 million bond referendum for facilities improvements scraped by, with 52 percent approval. More than a quarter of the money will go toward deferred maintenance, with improvements to athletic, academic and performing arts spaces also planned.

And 58 percent of Hastings voters approved the district’s request for a $4.2 million operating levy renewal. Originally passed in 2005, it will extend 10 more years.

The results mirror the fact that the overwhelming majority of proposed levies across the state also passed. According to Star Tribune data, 30 of 35 levy requests from 25 suburban districts won taxpayer approval.

Rosemount-Apple Valley-Eagan

Superintendent Jane Berenz was happy to see that voters in every precinct approved the levy request, she said.

“Our community, I just can’t thank them enough,” she said. “And our parents and everyone who supported investing in education.”

“We know that raising taxes isn’t easy,” Berenz said, explaining that the board used survey results to ask for only the amount that taxpayers said they would support.

In 2010, voters defeated a levy request, with residents saying they wanted more information about exactly what they were voting on, she said.

This time, the district told voters that if the levy failed, class sizes would increase, activity fees would go up and cuts would be made to certain programs, like fifth-grade band and 9th-grade B sports.

Now, those reductions won’t have to be made, Berenz said, and the levy funding will soften the cuts that need to be made next year.

This summer, the district estimated the levy would cost the average homeowner an extra $184 per year, said Jeff Solomon, the district’s finance director. But in September, additional equalization aid from the state reduced that amount.

Now, the average homeowner will pay $56 more next year compared to this year, Solomon said.

Lakeville

After receiving “no” votes on levy requests for a decade, getting a “yes” vote from the community “is feeling very, very good,” said Superintendent Lisa Snyder.

“We are very excited. It’s a happy day in Lakeville schools,” she said.

Snyder said she believes that the district’s recent strategies of more communication and financial transparency have “really paid off.”

The new funding — which will cost the owner of an average-priced home $167 annually — will allow the district to avoid cuts in 2014-15, and “it’s also going to put us on a better path” for the future, she said.

The district can now address “some of the class size issues that are so prevalent in our schools, so we’re pretty thrilled about that,” she said.

The district had 20 polling places this year, as opposed to only four sites in 2007, when a levy request failed by just 12 votes.

In 2007 and 2010, voters approved renewing existing levies but denied requests for new funding.

This year, “There weren’t any lines. It was in and out, and people appreciated that,” Snyder said.

Inver Grove Heights

Inver Grove Heights Superintendent Dee Wells knows that passing the $24.75 million, 19-year bond referendum, which the district deemed necessary to update aging facilities, was a close call.

But, “It is 52 percent, and that is sufficient. And we are just very, very grateful,” she said.

She believes this was “one of the first times we’ve been successful [with a levy request] on a first try,” she said. The district hasn’t passed a bond referendum since 2005, and technology levies were defeated in 2011 and 2012.

In June, the board approved putting a $31 million question on the ballot — but then they saw survey results indicating residents would be likely to support a lower amount, said Jason Mutzenberger, the district’s director of business services.

As a result, the district reduced their request to the current figure, which will cost the average homeowner $77 more per year.

The new funding will be used to make improvements in four areas — arts, academics, athletics and security, Wells said. And more than one-quarter of the money will go to deferred maintenance projects, like new windows and roofs.

Though the board cut some items from the original request, “the package itself is still a huge step forward for our students,” Wells said.

Erin Adler • 952-746-3283

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