South Washington County Schools officials will go back to the drawing board after voters roundly rejected a $463 million construction bond Tuesday that would have been used to expand classroom space in nearly every school and pay for two new elementary buildings.
With every precinct reporting Wednesday morning, nearly 66% of voters marked their ballots "no."
"We are lucky to be in a growing community, but we are now in a place where we must make more difficult decisions," Superintendent Julie Nielsen said in a statement.
"As shared prior to the vote, we will look to modify the existing plan and make necessary changes to address student growth where it is occurring in the district."
District officials said they'll return to voters in February with a pared-down pitch as the school board considers a new 10-year facility plan in anticipation of a 2025 boundary adjustment.
The district's initial pitch for the multimillion-dollar bond included a controversial plan to close Newport Elementary, its most diverse school. The building's fate remains undecided; officials previously said there would be uncertainty over the school's future if the bond measure failed.
The school construction effort would have been the largest in Minnesota history had it been approved, eclipsing a $326 million bond approved by White Bear Lake voters in 2019.
Fourteen other Minnesota school districts had bond referendums on the ballot Tuesday, with a total of $975 million in construction funding on the line. Most of those efforts proved successful.
Nine districts won voter approval for a total of more than $270 million in construction projects and school upgrades.
In St. Louis Park, a $135 million measure to update several schools passed with 70% of the vote. In the Albany district, 59% of voters approved a $17 million plan to renovate and convert a former hospital into an early-learning center.
The second-largest bond package that failed Tuesday was a pair of requests from the ROCORI School District, which serves Rockville, Cold Spring and Richmond in central Minnesota.
The first question on the ballot was a $64 million measure that would have funded security upgrades, construction of career and technical spaces and a playground. The second was a $9 million bond measure to build an activities center, pool, fitness center and dance studio. About 4 in 5 voters rejected both measures.
In the Round Lake-Brewster School District in southwestern Minnesota, a $30 million measure to build a K-12 school fell short by seven votes.
Two referendums in northwestern Minnesota school districts also were decided by a handful of votes.
In Crookston, a $4 million measure to buy and update new school sites failed by nine votes. In the Marshall County Central School District, nine voters decided the election in favor of a $19 million bond to renovate the elementary and high schools.
In South Washington County, where officials estimate enrollment will grow by nearly 20% over the next decade, the measure would have fully funded the district's 10-year infrastructure plan.
District leaders anticipate about 8,000 housing units will be built during that time, bringing about 3,500 new students to South Washington County. The east metro district's boundaries encompass seven communities, including Cottage Grove, Newport and Woodbury.
A little more than 20,600 students attended South Washington County schools during the 2021-22 school year, according to state figures.