Waconia school leaders say they need to plan ahead, preparing for new schools as the district sees nonstop growth, year after year.
While they're not looking to build yet, they're asking voters next Tuesday to OK buying land for the schools they say they'll need eventually.
"We need to look at the long-term solution," Superintendent Nancy Rajanen said. "At some point we'll absolutely need an additional building."
Since 2001, the western Carver County district has steadily grown at a rate of about 5 percent a year as cities such as St. Bonifacius and Minnetrista have expanded. About 100 additional students enter the 3,300-student district each year, causing leaders to project that all of its schools will be at capacity by 2013.
If voters approve next Tuesday's request, they'll be supporting $8 million in bonds to fund the purchase of two tracts of land for a future elementary and a future high school: 90 acres in Waconia near County Road 10 and Little Avenue, and 49 acres in Minnetrista near Country Road 92 and Towns Edge Road.
The owner of an average Waconia home valued at $200,000 would pay $30 more a year in taxes to the district to fund the land purchase.
That's not prudent during tight economic times, said Scott Jensen, who served on the district's school board for 10 years.
"When times are tough, I think you roll up your sleeves and share the pain," said Jensen, who's made his opposition public in letters to the editor of the local newspaper. "This is not a good time to be asking for money."
While the district is growing, Jensen said it's slowed and isn't "critically in need for space."
"They can make do," he said.
Among his questions is one leaders are hearing a lot: If new land is purchased, when would the district return to voters with a plea for more money to fund a new school?
"Right now, we haven't answered that question," Rajanen said, adding that a building referendum certainly wouldn't occur in the next year, but likely would take place in the next five years.
Land values down
District leaders have held about 15 public meetings since the school board in March approved going ahead with a referendum. While some taxpayers may be wary of additional tax hikes, officials say new land and schools will provide a long-term solution to growth.
They also say that now is the time to buy, with land parcels costing roughly half of what they were worth five years ago.
A December survey of 400 Waconia district residents showed that 53 percent would support a referendum limited to land purchase while 10 percent were undecided and 37 percent would oppose a proposal.
Past voter support has been mixed. A 2007 levy increase was approved by 51 percent of those voting. But voters rejected 2006 bond and levy referendums after passing a $33 million referendum for school additions in 2005.
"We're fairly optimistic," Rajanen said. "But you never know."
The polls will be open next Tuesday from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. at Bayview Elementary School in Waconia, New Germany City Hall and St. Bonifacius City Hall. The school board will meet May 23 to canvass the results.
Kelly Smith • 612-673-4141