ADVERTISEMENT

Washington County school districts plan funding pitches in new year

  • Article by: Anthony Lonetree
  • Star Tribune
  • December 28, 2013 - 4:34 PM

Washington County voters were agreeable, for the most part, to investing anew in their schools this fall, and as 2014 approaches, two districts are readying pitches for new funding in the new year.

The Forest Lake Area school district wants to issue up to $176 million in bonds to improve and restructure its facilities. The proposal will be before voters on May 20, the district announced earlier this month.

Mahtomedi, too, will have a funding proposal on the general-election ballot next fall — in its case a high-stakes request for operating revenues. The district was one of the few in the state to see a levy proposal defeated last month.

Cuts are in the offing for the 2014-15 school year, Superintendent Mark Larson said recently.

Forest Lake’s plan includes no new buildings, but calls for significant repairs and improvements to all of its schools, officials say. They say the proposal also would “bring to life” a new secondary-campus concept involving Forest Lake Area High School and Century Junior High. Under the plan, ninth grade will be added to the high school and seventh and eighth grade will be housed at Century.

The proposal was the subject of lengthy planning and has a heftier price tag than any of the capital requests put before metro area voters this fall. Next year, the Shakopee Public Schools will ask voters in March to back an $89 million building plan.

This month, Forest Lake school board members voted unanimously in favor of a May 20 election. The estimated tax impacts of the district’s building proposal were not available earlier this week.

In Mahtomedi, voters on Nov. 5 soundly rejected a proposal to revoke the district’s current operating levy and to replace it with one that would have raised an additional $330 per student.

Larson said he believed “voter fatigue” was a factor in the defeat. This fall’s proposal, he said, was the district’s third in four years. The other two involved building and technology expenditures.

Grant Mayor Tom Carr said he thought tax-weary voters yearned for restraint.

“Sharpen your pencils” was the message, he said. “Nobody wants their own ox gored.”

Asked if the district faced a tough sell in 2014, Carr said: “They had a tough sell this time. I’d imagine it’s a tough sell next year.”

The district’s current levy is up for final renewal in November 2014, raising the stakes for next year’s election. This year, it went out a year early — with the additional $330 per student in funding — to avoid another round of budget cuts, Larson said.

Mahtomedi has trimmed its annual budget in nine of the past 10 years and is eyeing another $500,000 in cuts for 2014-15.

Larson acknowledged a tough tax climate locally. He said the district needed to do a better job of communicating. This spring, he said, when officials and board members discuss the next levy proposal, they’ll make clear what’s on the line if the request fails.

“The specificity will help our message,” Larson said.

Anthony Lonetree • 651-925-5036

© 2014 Star Tribune