At the ballot box: Big year for school bond referendums in Minnesota

School referendums on the ballot

School referendums on the ballot

It’s a busy year for school bond referendums. 65 school districts in Minnesota have requested voter support to fund the building of new schools and upgraded technology and security in 2023.

It’s the highest number of school bond referendums since 2017, according to the Minnesota School Boards Association on Tuesday.

21 were decided earlier in the year, leaving 44 referendums — totaling more than $2 billion — to be on ballots in November.

“So it is a large amount,” said the Minnesota School Boards Association’s Director of Communications and Elections Greg Abbott. “But if you look at them, a lot of the requests are renewals of capital project levies, and those are mainly used for technology. So you can only have that capital project levy for up to 10 years. So a lot of them are coming due. And a lot of districts need to renew it.”

Four districts are requesting more than $100 million each, with the biggest price tags coming from the Osseo and Stillwater school districts, in that order.

“And in fact, they’re far from being the largest requests that have been approved in past years,” said Abbott.

Osseo Area Schools is asking for more than $223 million, in part, to build its 18th elementary school.

Stillwater Area Public Schools, with a request for nearly $175 million, plans to re-build larger versions of two elementary schools — Andersen and Lake Elmo.

Both schools are 100 years old and too small, with an expected influx of at least 1,000 kids in the next decade, according to Carissa Keister, the district’s chief of staff.

“Lake Elmo has been identified as the fastest-growing community in the state of Minnesota,” Keister said.

Development is booming in Osseo too, according to the district’s finance and operations director John Morstad, who added that the area is expecting 5,500 new housing units by the end of the decade.

“And with that, we’d be looking at more than 1,200 new students,” Morstad said.

Osseo also plans to add classrooms to Maple Grove Senior High, and Stillwater would add classrooms to Oak-Land Middle School if funding is approved.

To make it all happen, property taxes in Osseo would rise by $7 per month per household and $16 in Stillwater, where the average price of a home is higher.

“It’s important to know in this the money from this bond isn’t only going to a new school and isn’t only going to Maple Grove senior,” Morstad said. “It’s going to every single building we have across the system.”

“I know that the DFL would come out and say, ‘We passed a record amount and proper spending for schools.’ And yes, they have and yes, it’s appreciated. But that spending also came with a lot of caveats on how it should be spent. So it wasn’t money directed to technology, it wasn’t money directed toward buildings. That’s what the capital project levees and bonding requests are for,” said Abbott.

Both districts — and many others on the full list — also plan to spend some of the requested money on improving technology and securing building entrances.

Osseo Area Schools is hosting a public information session on its referendum on Wednesday at 6 p.m. at Maple Grove Senior High School.