Shakopee residents have spoken, and they aren’t willing to foot the bill on a $78 million new high school.
On Tuesday night, voters rejected an $89 million plan that would have provided $78 million toward building a second high school. An additional $11 million was dedicated to maintenance and improving security and outdoor spaces.
Unofficial election results indicated that 3,270 voters — 63 percent of the total — were cast against the plan, with 1,947 in favor, according to the district’s website.
Superintendent Rod Thompson said he was surprised at the outcome, especially after multiple sources indicated that there was enough support to pass the measure. “We didn’t get the results that we had hoped for, but we did get results that are loud and clear,” he said. “So our plan B was to re-engage with the community, talk to them and find out what our next steps are.”
Thompson wasn’t around when a task force recommended building a second high school in 2010. Now, he can “start from scratch, with no biases,” he said.
District officials said they needed the new school to relieve overcrowding at all grade levels and accommodate future growth in the city. But some residents believed that the district should have instead proposed adding onto the existing, 1,600-student-capacity high school, rather than dividing the city of 40,000 in two.
With the referendum’s failure, the district’s first concern will be relieving overcrowding at the elementary level. In the next three years, Thompson wants the Pearson 6th Grade Center converted into an elementary school, and the ninth-graders shifted to the high school, both moves that would have happened if the referendum had passed, he said.
“We have to figure out if we can get our ninth-graders up to the high school, because they are high schoolers,” he said, citing a need for them to take academically rigorous classes.
But those goals are likely contingent on voters passing a new plan involving building projects of some sort, he said.
Thompson said he’s not sure if the district will be ready for another referendum by November. Timeline decisions will be made after discussions with the community, he said.
On election night, voters expressed both support and disdain for the plan to build a second high school, which would have been located a mile from the current high school.
Tony Cloyd, who has three kids in the district, voted no. Having moved to Minnesota in 2006 and watched the district build the existing high school, he said he is “kind of disappointed they didn’t plan better.”
“My whole thing is, I know there’s a big class coming through, but what comes after that point? Do we have two underutilized schools?” he said.
Meanwhile, Brian Bloom voted yes, because he has a kindergarten daughter and has seen the large class sizes. He believed the referendum would pass and said that “if it doesn’t, it’s going to be hard for kids to learn anything.”
On Tuesday after work, voters at the high school, one of two polling places, were frustrated by hourlong waits to cast their ballots using a single electronic ballot machine.
“Really? One counting machine?” asked Leanna Timanus.
“I think it’s kind of ridiculous,” said Nicole McLaren, who waited more than an hour. “I don’t think they expected this kind of turnout.”
But Thompson said he doesn’t believe wait times affected the outcome because the proposal failed by such a large margin.
On the plus side, the results show that Shakopee voters are engaged, rather than apathetic, he said.
“I’ll never underestimate the power of the people in Shakopee to get it right the next time by pulling together and having their voices heard,” he said.