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A lot of 'yes' in Minnesota school referendums

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Immigration School Vote
A sign supporting Worthington's school funding ballot measure sits in a yard Tuesday. Voters in this southwestern Minnesota approved nearly $34 million in new borrowing to expand schools filled to overflowing in recent years by an influx of immigrants.
Stephen Groves | AP

Updated: 2:23 p.m.

About 70 school districts across Minnesota asked voters to approve more school spending Tuesday. Many of those requests came in the form of property tax increases to pay for repairs or new schools. A few dozen districts asked for a tax increase to help fund day-to-day operations. 

Final results from many districts with referendums on the ballot are still pending, but there were already quite a few happy superintendents across Minnesota Wednesday morning. Voters approved school funding requests in a wide majority of the districts where the results are already in.

White Bear Lake voters approved the largest bond referendum, at $326 million to cover a variety of building projects. 

In Rochester, there was strong support for a $171 million bond to build a new middle school and remodel other buildings. 

Moorhead voters overwhelmingly approved a $110 million bond for a new high school. 

In Alexandria, voters approved a 10-year operating levy.

And on the sixth try over the past 7 years, Worthington voters narrowly approved building a new intermediate school and a new elementary school.

Worthington schools superintendent John Landgaard said he woke up Wednesday morning relieved and happy.

"I'm excited that we finally have a plan that has passed and will move forward,” he said. “The work doesn't quit. We're off and running and we'll be doing a lot of different things over the next couple months to get this rolling and moving forward.”

Worthington voters approved all three referendum questions on their ballots, and the district now has the go-ahead to refinance some existing debt that will make it eligible for a Minnesota property tax credit on agricultural land. 

The new ag land tax credit reduces the share of property taxes farmers pay for these school bond issues. Because results from many of the state’s rural districts are still being reported, it’s not clear if the Ag2School credit, as it’s called, has changed the way rural voters approach school referendums. 

As of early Wednesday morning, 10 rural bond requests — which pay for things like school construction projects, safety upgrades and building maintenance. — passed, and one failed. Requests were successful this year in several school districts where bond issues have failed before, like Worthington, Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton and Owatonna. 

Seven rural districts passed operating referendums, which would pay for day-to-day school operating costs like employee salaries and classroom supplies.

In recent years, rural schools have been successful passing referendums only about half of the time. 

Minnesota Rural Education Association executive director Fred Nolan said on Tuesday  84 percent of rural school district voters approved increased education spending, in what could be the most positive election for rural school referendums in recent memory.

"This is quite unexpected,” he said. “I was  hoping for an increase.  This is a larger increase than I think anyone had anticipated."

Nolan attributed the improved success of school referendums this week to the Ag2School program, in which the the state has picked up a larger share of local school funding through a tax credit on agricultural land.


Worthington: Sixth’s time’s the charm for school request

Worthington voters approved nearly $34 million in new borrowing to expand schools filled to overflowing in recent years by an influx of immigrants.

Voters in the Worthington-area school district had rejected five similar measures since 2013, but approved a series of three questions on Tuesday.

Some residents had said racism played a role in those defeats. But members of a group that helped sink previous bond proposals say their opposition is fiscal, not racial.

The last referendum, in February, failed by only 17 votes.

The vote in Worthington was one of over 70 referendums taking place in school districts across Minnesota on Tuesday.

— The Associated Press


Rochester: Strong support for new schools

Two school referendum questions passed with strong support in Rochester on Election Day. 

Voters approved roughly $180 million in new school investments for Rochester Public Schools.

About $171 million of that total will be put into building new schools, updating old ones and an array of other school improvements.

An additional $9.5 million will be used in part to refurbish an existing pool at the district’s Mayo High School. The rest will be used to build a new pool at its Century High School. 

The next step is figuring out where one of those new schools will be built, and whether the district needs to redraw its boundaries.

In the run-up to Election Day, school officials made the case to voters that the new money is necessary to accommodate the region’s growing population. Most schools are at or near student capacity. And that growth is partly due to the city's expansion under the Destination Medical Center economic development plan. 

— Catharine Richert, MPR News


Moorhead: Voters approve money for high school and career academy

Voters approved a $110 million bond issue to build a new high school and career academy in the Moorhead school district.

The support for the bond passed with 75.6 percent of the vote: 5,458 voted in favor, and 1,754 voted against.

“We are so grateful to our community for their support of our students, our staff and our schools,” superintendent Brandon Lunak said. “This is the culmination of an extensive community-driven high school facilities planning process involving over 150 community members who worked hard to develop a plan that would best address student needs.”

The bond referendum will rebuild the high school to help address student capacity needs, and develop a career academy at a former Sam’s Club in the city.

— Dan Gunderson, MPR News