The South Washington County school board is expected to decide in early August how much money to seek in a pair of fall referendums — one for classroom operations and the other for building projects.

First, however, board members will hear the results of a 400-person survey conducted in June by the Morris Leatherman Co., Superintendent Keith Jacobus said during the board's June 18 meeting.

The board had expected to hear what survey respondents had to say about the levy and bond proposals at the June 18 meeting. But Jacobus said that the presentation was being delayed to July 16, with final action on the November ballot questions to come Aug. 6.

The district is considering a $900-per-pupil levy increase that would raise $17.6 million annually, plus a $142.5 million bond referendum consisting of two questions — one asking for $96 million to build a new middle school and renovate and expand other middle schools, the other seeking $46.5 million for high school and elementary school improvements.

The owner of a $250,000 home would see a $605 per year tax increase if all three measures were approved, Jacobus said.

The district is preparing to submit the bond questions to the state Department of Education for its review. The levy proposal, however, is more fluid. At the June 18 board meeting, officials said it was possible for the district to meet its goal of rebuilding its fund balance with an $800-per-pupil proposal, as well.

Board Member Michelle Witte acknowledged earlier this month that there was "sticker shock" in the property-tax calculations. But the district is not at the state-imposed limit of what it can raise locally, she added, giving it a "real opportunity" to put its finances in order.

In recent years, the district has been forced to cut and to dip into reserves to balance its budget. With a $900-per-student increase, the fund balance could rise to 10.4 percent by the end of the 2019-20 school year, Jacobus said.

In 2013, district voters backed a $6.9 million annual increase in operating revenue that included $1.5 million in safety and security improvements, $2.5 million toward the fund balance and $1.4 million for a steadying of staff-to-student ratios. State funding has not kept pace with inflation, however, officials say, and enrollment has flattened in recent years, too, leading to a renewed push to generate new revenue.

This summer, the district is using funds backed in 2013 to construct secure entrances at Bailey, Grey Cloud and Middleton elementary schools. Similar projects are planned for next summer at Cottage Grove, Liberty Ridge and Red Rock elementary schools.

The bond proposal now in the works includes construction of a new Oltman Middle School in Cottage Grove. The current building in St. Paul Park began as an elementary school and is seen as an awkward fit for the middle school model, which separates students into teams that move among specific sets of teachers.


Students meld arts, technology into film

Sixth-graders at Oak Park Elementary closed out the 2014-15 school year by using iPads and Chromebooks to create short animated films blending music, poetry and visual art.

The project was based on the four seasons and found students writing haiku poems and composing their own music, a Stillwater Area Public Schools news release said.

Visual imagery included watercolor paintings and small, movable pieces that could be manipulated and photographed.

Links to the finished projects — Snowflakes, Feathers in Flight, Skiing and Vacation Fun among them — can be found on the district's website at

Anthony Lonetree